Archive for the ‘Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’ Category

Regarding the Lectionary   Leave a comment

Above:  Five Lectionary-Related Books from My Library, April 16, 2017

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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I wrote this text for the May 2017 edition of The Gregorian Chant, the newsletter of St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia.

The Episcopal Church follows a pattern of the ordered reading of scripture in worship, as does the majority of Christianity.  Our Eastern Orthodox brethren follow their own calendar and have their own lectionary.  In the realm of Western Christianity the Revised Common Lectionary (1992) and the second edition of the Roman Catholic Lectionary for Mass (1998) are quite similar.  Much of the time, in fact, the readings for any given Sunday are identical.  This relative uniformity with regard to the assignment of readings from scripture per Sunday creates opportunities for ministers from various denominational backgrounds to gather weekly, study the Bible, and develop ideas for sermons in an ecumenical setting.

Nevertheless, diversity regarding lectionaries exists within Western Christianity.  Many ministers disregard all lectionaries routinely.  I know of the existence of two four-year lectionaries—one published in book form and the other available as a PDF online.  One can also purchase two unauthorized supplements to the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL).  Presbyterian minister Timothy Matthew Slemmons offers Year D (2012) and United Church of Christ clergyman David Ackerman proposes Beyond the Lectionary (2013).  Furthermore, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, in its Lutheran Service Book (2006), offers two lectionaries—a one-year cycle and a three-year cycle—not the RCL.  In contrast, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America uses the RCL.

Greater diversity in lectionaries used to exist.  One could find many active lectionaries for one, two, and three years during a survey of worship materials as late as the early 1980s.  The Episcopal Church has replaced the lectionary in The Book of Common Prayer occasionally, as it did in 1945 and 1979.  The Methodist Book of Worship for Church and Home (1945 and 1965) offered a one-year cycle.  The Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (1946) broke with U.S. Presbyterian tradition and included a lectionary–a two-year cycle borrowed from The Church of Scotland.  The Presbyterian provisional Book of Common Worship 1966) included a new lectionary, a two-year cycle abandoned in 1970. Lutherans of various denominations also used a range of lectionaries, from one to three years in duration.

Everything began to change in 1969.  That year the Roman Catholic Church unveiled its new Lectionary for Mass, which moved from a one-year cycle to a three-year cycle.  Other Christian denominations produced variations of that lectionary.  U.S. Presbyterians, for example, created their new lectionary in 1970.  During the 1970s Lutherans and Episcopalians, who were revising their books of worship, developed their new lectionaries also.  The United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ also changed their lectionaries.  By 1981 The Evangelical Covenant Church of America, in its new Covenant Book of Worship, used a hybrid lectionary—one based primarily on its traditional Swedish Lutheran lectionary yet anticipating the Common Lectionary (1983), which harmonized many of the Protestant variations on the Roman Catholic lectionary.  The RCL, offering a greater range of readings, replaced the Common Lectionary in 1992.  By 1996 The Evangelical Covenant Church had adopted the RCL, which they included in their new hymnal (published that year) then in their revised Covenant Book of Worship (2003).

Since 2007 new editions of The Book of Common Prayer have included the RCL, which the National Church has adopted in lieu of the former Sunday lectionary.

The RCL covers about a quarter of the Protestant Bible.  The RCL, for all of its richness, does tend to avoid many of the uncomfortable passages of scripture, such as a host of the angry Psalms and angry portions of Psalms.  I have read in books particular to lectionaries that a seven-year cycle would be necessary to cover nearly all of the Protestant Bible.  To make the transition to a seven-year lectionary would be to create the opportunity to hear those difficult passages of scripture read during worship and addressed in sermons.  If we are not ready for that, we should be.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 16, 2017 COMMON ERA

EASTER SUNDAY, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT BERNADETTE OF LOURDES, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

THE FEAST OF CALVIN WEISS LAUFER, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMNODIST

THE FEAST OF ISABELLA GILMORE, ANGLICAN DEACONESS

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Reflections on the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of My Confirmation   Leave a comment

bulletin-december-22-1991

Above:  Cover of the Bulletin, St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Tifton, Georgia, December 22, 1991

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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On the morning of December 22, 1991, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, I became an Episcopalian.  The Right Reverend Harry Woolston Shipps (who died recently), then the Bishop of Georgia, confirmed me.  Officially I retained membership in The United Methodist Church until the following Autumn, on the occasion of the 1992 Charge Conference of the Sumner Charge (four congregations at the time).  Indeed, I remained substantially a Methodist for a long time, but I had begun to think of myself as an Episcopalian prior to my confirmation at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Tifton, Georgia.

I have become convinced that I was supposed to become an Episcopalian, for the affiliation is a natural fit for me.  I am, after all, somewhat Roman Catholic while retaining many Protestant influences. Ritual appeals to me strongly also.  Furthermore, The Episcopal Church grants me a wide berth to respect certain traditions, break with other traditions, bring my intellect to bear on my spiritual life, disagree peaceably with many people, and be an introvert without feeling out-of-place.  Evangelicalism, as I have experienced it, is relentlessly extroverted.  That is not an inherently negative characteristic, but the manner in which many extroverts fail to respect the value of introversion and therefore marginalize introverts is unfortunate.  Indeed, personality typing helps to explain why certain denominations and styles of prayer are preferable to some people but not others.  That which feeds one person starves another.

I have never looked back from my choice to become an Episcopalian.  As I have become more liberal in some ways, more conservative in others, and incorporated Lutheran theology into my thought, I have become a different type of Episcopalian than I was in 1991.  My faith life is a work in progress; I wonder how it will proceed as I continue from day to day.  The Episcopalian way of being simply makes sense to me.  Since I moved to Athens, Georgia, in August 2005, I have dwelt spiritually primarily at St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia.  I have also frequented two university chaplaincies (Episcopalian and Presbyterian U.S.A.), attended services at First Presbyterian Church and Holy Cross Lutheran Church, engaged in community volunteering at one Presbyterian U.S.A. and two United Methodist congregations, participated in a performance of the first part off Handel’s Messiah at Oconee Presbyterian Church (Watkinsville), and attended community functions at four other churches (Disciples of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, Assemblies of God, and non-denominational Charismatic) in the area.  Furthermore, I have attended a diocesan gathering at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, without ever entering a worship space there.  The fact that I seldom want to attend services in another denomination demonstrates the fact that I have found my niche.  Why should I seek another place?  Nevertheless, I am agreeable to ecumenical engagements.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 22, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-SIXTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK AND WILLIAM TEMPLE, ARCHBISHOPS OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF SAINTS CHAEREMON AND ISCHYRION, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF HENRY BUDD, FIRST ANGLICAN NATIVE PRIEST IN NORTH AMERICA; MISSIONARY TO THE CREE NATION

THE FEAST OF JAMES PRINCE LEE, BISHOP OF MANCHESTER

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Two Kings   15 comments

Ahaseurus and Haman at Esther's Feast

Above:  Ahasuerus and Haman at Esther’s Feast, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

God of power and might, your Son shows us the way of service,

and in him we inherit the riches of your grace.

Give us the wisdom to know what is right and

the strength to serve the world you have made,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53

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The Assigned Readings:

Esther 2:1-18

Psalm 7

2 Timothy 2:8-13

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I will bear witness that the LORD is righteous;

I will praise the Name of the LORD Most High.

–Psalm 7:18, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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This is a devotion for the day after Christ the King Sunday.  Pope Pius XI created that festival in 1925, when dictators governed much of Europe, interwar tensions were rising, and the Holy Father perceived the need to issue a reminder that God is in control, despite appearances.  The original date was the last Sunday in October, opposite Reformation Sunday in many Protestant churches, but the Roman Catholic Church moved the date to the Sunday before Advent in 1969.  In the middle of the twentieth century many U.S. Protestants observed Christ the King Sunday on the last Sunday in August.  I have found evidence of this in the official materials of the reunited Methodist Church (1939-1968).  Today observance of Christ the King Sunday (on the Sunday before Advent) has become common in many non-Roman Catholic communions.  I have detected it in the Revised Common Lectionary and the Common Lectionary before that, as well as in official materials of Anglican/Episcopal, Methodist, Moravian, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, Cooperative Baptist, Evangelical Covenant, and other denominations.

In contrast to Christ the King we have the fictional Ahasuerus, a pompous figure whose courtiers manipulate him.  He and others figure in the Book of Esther, which the germane notes in The Jewish Study Bible (2004) refer to as a low comedy with burlesque elements, as well as a serious side.  (Comedy has a serious side much of the time.)  The Book of Esther pokes fun at authority figures, one of the oldest pastimes.  Ahasuerus, humiliated when Queen Vashti refuses his summons, decides angrily to replace her.  Before he can reverse that decision, his advisers intervene.  This opens the narrative door for Esther to become the secretly Jewish Queen of Persia just in time for Haman to plot to kill the Jews.  Esther might have been a tool of schemers initially, but she becomes an instrument of God.

St. Paul the Apostle might not have written 2 Timothy, but the letter is of the Pauline tradition.  Certainly the Apostle did suffer hardship due to his obedience to God and agreed, as the text says:

If we have died with [Christ Jesus], we will also live with him;

if we endure, we will also reign with him;

if we deny him, he will also deny us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful–

for he cannot deny himself.

–2:11b-13, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Regardless of the situations of our daily life and how they became our reality, may we obey God and do the right thing.  This might prove to be quite dangerous, leading even to death, but so did the path of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 8, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SHEPHERD KNAPP, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN DUCKETT AND RALPH CORBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS IN ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF NIKOLAI GRUNDTVIG, HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/devotion-for-monday-after-proper-29-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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“Through the Church the Song Goes On”: The Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America–Some Reflections   12 comments

Dutch Reformed Part VIII Cover Photo

Above:  My Copies of Some Books I Have I Have Discussed in This Series

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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U.S. DUTCH REFORMED LITURGY, PART VIII

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Lo, the apostolic train join your sacred name to hallow;

prophets swell the glad refrain, and the white-robed martyrs follow;

and from morn to set of sun through the church the song goes on.

–“Holy God, We Praise Your Name,” hymn #619, Rejoice in the Lord (1985)

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I.  PREFACE AND INTRODUCTION

A few months ago I decided that I should spend part of this Summer researching and writing about U.S. Dutch Reformed liturgy.  The project would require much effort, concentration, and time, I knew, and I looked forward to it.  I had no idea, however, that I would wind up drafting some very long posts.  Part VII, for example, was 78 pages in longhand and required three days (off-and-on) to type.  These surprises were positive ones, for my brain had more fun than it would have otherwise.  My fingers, however, required rest along the way.

This process has lasted, with some breaks, for about two months.  I posted Part I of the series on May 16, Part II on May 18, and Part III on May 22.  Then posts became longer.  Part IV debuted on June 6, Part V on June 9, and Part VI on June 22.  I published Part VII, the longest post of the series, yesterday, July 5.  And so here I am, with with much of the content of these posts fresh in my mind, ready to offer a few broad conclusions.

II.  CHANGE AND CONTINUITY IN SOCIETY, THEOLOGY, AND WORSHIP

The “Others”

Among the constants in human society and theology is the impulse to label groups as “other.”  Often, in the name of righteousness, people have killed or committed other violence against the “others” or merely denied them civil rights and liberties or kept a “safe” distance from them.  The “others” have been people of different ethnic or racial backgrounds, national origins, people who have disagreed on certain points of theology, and people who have violated traditional concepts of gender.  Yet the “others” and those who have defined them as such have all carried the image of God and been more alike than many of them have known or suspected.  Jesus Christ came to, among other things, break down artificial barriers, which he did, making powerful enemies in the process.  We humans find the scandalous generosity of grace intolerable much of the time.

Definitions of identity–often of the “I’m not…” variety–appeal to many people.  Dutch identity used to work that way for many more people in North America than it does today.  Cultural assimilation over decades and centuries settled many arguments.  Among the most emotionally difficult related issues was the language of worship.  The Reformed Church in America (RCA) moved on from that matter long before the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) did, but subsequent waves of Dutch emigration kept the question alive well into the twentieth century.

Among those of the CRCNA persuasion the purity of doctrine has long been a major concern–an obsession, really.  With that obsession has come not only the refusal to merge with other denominations but the splintering of the CRCNA during times of increasing openness–liberalization–on the official level.  Two denominations–the Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches (OCRC) in the 1980s and the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) in the 1990s–formed for this reason.  The former merged into the latter in 2008.  One example of liberalization in the CRCNA was the official opening of all church offices to women in the 1990s.

Homosexuals and their heterosexual allies remain very much the “others” in the Dutch Reformed denominations in North America.  Calls for compassionate treatment of homosexuals and for guarantees of their civil rights and liberties coexist with official denials of these civil rights and liberties and of a dearth of compassionate treatment.  Those heterosexual allies who act on their moral convictions risk conviction in ecclesiastical courts.  One day the nearly unanimous verdict of generations not yet born will be that all this was as morally offensive as using the Bible to justify chattel slavery.  That verdict has been becoming more commonplace during the last few years, fortunately.  “Homophobes ‘R Us” is an immoral identity for any denomination or congregation.

Liturgy

Some traditions, such as sexism and homophobia, are unequivocably bad.  Yet others are beautiful and reverent.  This does not mean, however, that one should make a fetish out of liturgy and preserve it in amber, as if it were an ancient insect.  And neither should one disregard liturgical tradition because it is old and chase after the latest fad(s).  No, as Lutheran liturgical expert Philip H. Pfatteicher wrote:

…the new is not always found in opposition to the old but arises from the old as its natural growth and development.  Stability and continuity are essential elements of catholic Christianity.

Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship:  Lutheran Liturgy in Its Ecumenical Context (1990), page 10

One does not learn that valuable lesson from PowerPoint presentations, overhead projection transparencies, and “seven-eleven” praise choruses in worship.  Entertainment is not the worship of God.  And we have much to learn from tradition in liturgy without treating it like an exhibit in a museum.

Thomas Day, author of Why Catholics Can’t Sing:  The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste (1990), recounts a story from the early 1970s.  An elderly lady in a grand old Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, parish was having difficulty adjusting to the revised liturgy.  So, during the passing of the peace, she fingered her rosary and murmured instead.  When a man extended his hand to her and wished her God’s peace, she replied, “I don’t believe in that s–t.”  Then she returned to her rosary.

Although I approve of the passing of the peace and participate in it on a regular basis in my Episcopal parish, something about the story resonates with me.  I have found myself becoming more of a liturgical traditionalist than I used to be while remaining left of the theological and political center on most issues.  Thus my opinion of contemporary worship is that elderly woman’s summary of the passing of the peace.

Therefore I have a major problem with Lift Up Your Hearts (2013), the new official hymnal of the RCA and the CRCNA.  The contemporary tilt of the majority of material is bad, but I object to more than that.  I note that the title is Lift Up Your Hearts, not Lift Up Your Minds or Lift Up Your Intellects.  American Evangelicalism contains a broad spectrum, part of which places too much emphasis on the emotions and too little on the intellect.  I am describing Pietism, push-back against stale doctrinal orthodoxy enamored of abstraction and removed from the realities of daily life.  Yet, just as two wrongs do not make a right, two extremes do not balance out into an equilibrium.  Lift Up Your Hearts contains little to stimulate my intellect, one of the major ways I relate to God.

What Lies Ahead?

One of the volumes most helpful to me during the process of preparing this series of posts has been Divided By a Common Heritage:  The Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America at the Beginning of the New Millennium (2006), which four college professors–two from each denomination–wrote.  They researched, wrote, and published before the RCA-CRCNA Reformed Collaborative became as intensive as it has in 2014, so some of their conclusions might not apply any longer.  Others, however, hold up well.

On pages 187-193 then professors analyze three possible scenarios for the future of the RCA and the CRCNA.  They are, with some material I have added:

  1. The two denominations, already aging and fading away, might remain separate and die slowly.  The RCA would not exist anymore if not for its Midwestern and Western synods, which have opposed plans for organic union with other denominations more than once.  And the CRCNA has explored union with other denominations, calling off plans for merger with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) and being disappointed when the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) nixed another possible union in the 1960s.  The CRCNA is too conservative some denominations and too liberal for others while remaining quite conservative.
  2. The RCA and the CRCNA might merge to the left and for survival, leaving many points of disagreement left unresolved under the banner of diversity.  This would result in an exodus to the right.  The URCNA, the OPC, the PCA, the rump Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS), the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), ECO:  A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, and other denominations on the conservative end of the Reformed spectrum would benefit in this scenario.
  3. The RCA and the CRCNA might merge to the right and for purity, prompting an exodus to the left and taking with it most of the Eastern part of the RCA.  In this scenario the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PC(USA)] and the United Church of Christ (UCC), historically the preferred merger partners in the RCA East, would benefit.

Lift Up Your Hearts is a milestone book for the RCA and the CRCNA in so far as it indicates that the CRCNA is no longer accusing the RCA of apostasy (as it did in the middle 1800s and later) and that the RCA has ceased to publish negative comments about the CRCNA.  Forgiveness and reconciliation are positive, but I wonder where the organic future of each denomination should lie–together, separately and intact, or separate from each other and joined with others.  I, as an outside observer, have no “dog in the fight,” but I hope for the path of which God approves.

III.  PARTING WORDS (FOR NOW)

The title of this post reflects the fact that the story of the RCA and the CRCNA is, like the saga of Dune, far from over.  I have reached conclusions based on the course of events from 1628 to the middle of 2014 (just a few weeks ago), but I anticipate extending this series.  Perhaps I will write about other details of services, comparing and contrasting the same element over time in a given post.  Now, however, I need to focus on other matters.  And, as developments continue to unfold, I might write more posts of a broad nature.  Time will tell.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY OF HARDCOPY SOURCES

Day, Thomas.  Why Catholics Can’t Sing:  The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste.  New York, NY:  Crossroad, 1990.

Pfatteicher, Philip H.  Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship:  Lutheran Liturgy in Its Ecumenical Context.  Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Fortress, 1990.

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.

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KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 6, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 9–THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

THE FEAST OF SAINTS VINCENTIA GEROSA AND BARTHOLOMEA CAPITANIO, COFOUNDERS OF THE SISTERS OF CHARITY OF LOVERE

THE FEAST OF ISAIAH, BIBLICAL PROPHET

THE FEAST OF JAN HUS, PROTO-PROTESTANT MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT PALLADIUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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“Let Us Break Bread Together”: The Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America, 2001-2014   28 comments

2001-2013 Dutch Reformed

Above:  My Copies of Sing! A New Creation (2001), Worship the Lord:  The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America (2005), Psalms for All Seasons (2012), Lift Up Your Hearts (2013), Our Faith (2013), and The Worship Sourcebook  (2013)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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U.S. DUTCH REFORMED LITURGY, PART VII

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Let us break bread together….

Let us drink wine together….

Let us praise God together….

–Hymn #837, Lift Up Your Hearts:  Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs (2013)

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I.  PREFACE AND INTRODUCTION

This post flows naturally from its six predecessors.  I, to make navigation as easy as possible for those with even the slightest inclination to use all the tools available at this weblog to find something here, have created a guide post for this series, a project I have assigned myself as a hobby.  Yes, I am an intellectual.  Yes, I enjoy the vibrant life which takes place between my ears and behind my eyes.  Besides, I trust that God gave me my intelligence so that I may use it well.  And I am grateful for the educational level I have attained, so I refuse to hide my light under a bushel.  I have dialed down the linguistic showiness from my peak level, which often includes a peppering of French, Latin, and Greek terms not translated into English, but my knowledge base is impossible to hide.

This post rests upon a foundation of many sources.  I have listed the hardcopy sources at the end of the post.  Most sources, however, are electronic.  Thus you, O reader, will find URLs behind some parts of the text.  And, if you wish to follow my tracks further, you may find and download the germane Agendas for Synod and Acts of Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA or just CRC) here and those of the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) here.  The Acts and Proceedings of the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) are available here.  I have relied upon summaries and reports of proceedings of the recent bi-national (U.S. and Canadian) gatherings of these denominations, along with previously posted Agendas thereof, to complete preparations for this post.  I have endeavored to check facts and write accurately without becoming lost in the details and hope that I have succeeded.

From 2001, the beginning of the new millennium (there was no retroactive year Zero of the Common Era), to the middle of 2014, the RCA and the CRCNA moved closer to each other while recognizing that major issues continued to separate them.  The two denominations admitted the reality of these differences while working together on much they could do better cooperatively.  Meanwhile the URCNA, which split from the CRCNA in 1995, engaged in ecumenical work to the theological right of the RCA and the CRCNA.  The URCNA commenced work on a joint hymnal with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) as the RCA and the CRCNA neared the completion of labors on their shared hymnbook, Lift Up Your Hearts (2013).  The desire for greater unity, even if not in the form of merger, was in the air.

II.  THEOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS

Liturgy is an extension of slavery.  For example, what is the content of a particular rite?  And why does someone decide to create or not to create a certain ritual?  Thus I lay a firm foundation before moving along to analysis of hymnals, et cetera.

Ecumenical Relationships

And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.  Holy Father, protect them in your name thta you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

–John 17:11, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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+++The Reformed Collaborative:  The Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America+++

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The RCA-CRCNA relationship, the Reformed Collaborative, has come to involve a range of activities, from having a common supplier of church publications to sharing one benefits provider to cooperating in planting congregations to authorizing union churches to creating and authorizing a new official hymnal.  Other examples of cooperation fall into the realms of ministering to people with disabilities; creating a shared translation of the three traditional Reformed doctrinal standards/Forms of Unity:  the Canons of Dort, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Belgic Confession; holding bi-national denominational meetings simultaneously in 2011 and 2014; arranging for the “orderly exchange of ministers” across denominational lines; studying the Belhar Confession (1986) simultaneously and approving it (the RCA as the fourth Form of Unity in 2010 and the CRCNA as an Ecumenical Faith Declaration two years later); and laying aside old animosities.  The 1857 schism in the RCA which created the CRCNA resulted from ill will and created more of it.  That antipathy continued well into the twentieth century.  Certainly some tension remains, for some people will always retain grudges and other negative attitudes, but at least good will has been more plentiful lately.

For a thorough explanation of the Reformed Collaborative one may consult the CRC’s 2014 Agenda for Synod, pages 279-286.

There had been simultaneous meetings of the RCA General Synod and the CRCNA Synod at Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1989, with leaders of both denominations encouraging delegates to mingle.  The pace of rapprochement quickened six years later, when the RCA General Synod approved an overture

to explore avenues of reconciliation between the Reformed Church in American and the Christian Reformed Church in North America for additional programmatic cooperation.

–Quoted in the RCA Acts and Proceedings, 2001, page 101

In 2002 the CRC Synod approved dialogue with the RCA

to ascertain how our ministry and mission throughout the world might be strengthened by greater cooperation between our two denominations.

Acts of Synod, 2002, page 498

Five years later, on the occasion of the anniversary of the CRCNA’s schism from the RCA, the RCA General Synod commended its offspring “for one hundred and fifty years of faithful ministry” and looked forward to

increasing cooperation in ministry, joint appointments of overseas missionaries, common publishing and distribution of print and multimedia materials, and orderly exchange of ministers

as the RCA anticipated “even greater cooperation and ever deeper fellowship as we, separately and together, follow Christ in mission to this world so loved by God”  (Acts and Proceedings, 2007, page 270).  In 2011 the CRC Synod approved “A Resolution of Appreciation” for Dr. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, who was retiring from the post of RCA General Secretary, which he had held since 1994.  And the RCA General Synod of 2014 and the CRCNA Synod, meeting in a joint session, approved unanimously a resolution declaring that

the principle that guides us, and the intention that motivates us is to “act together in all things except those in which deep differences of conviction compel us to act separately.”

Those 2014 bi-national meetings overlapped in an opening worship service, a Sunday evening service, daily morning prayer, and three joint sessions.

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

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The CRCNA remained a member of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), an organization the RCA would have joined had the NAE consented.  Part of the RCA–one regional synod and some congregations–had affiliated already, for the decentralized nature of the denomination had made that possible.  Yet the RCA itself sought to join the NAE while remaining a member of the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC), something the NAE had forbidden.  On March 6, 2000, however, the NAE changed that policy.  Thus the RCA applied for membership later that year.  Yet, in March 2001, the reversed the new policy and the RCA’s application became a dead letter.

Some quarters of the RCA continued to harbor anti-WCC sentiments.  An overture to the General Synod of 2012 requested reconsideration of membership in that Council and the presentation of a report to the following year’s General Synod.  The WCC, the author(s) of the overture claimed, had supported Zimbabwean Communists financially, opposed the State of Israel, and demonstrated Universalist tendencies.  The overture failed for, as the rebuttal said, some of the charges were twenty years old and, even if true then, were no longer applicable.  The rest did not survive fact checks.

The CRCNA continued to have an observer on the NCC’s Faith and Order Commission until after the Synod of 2007.  After the observer died the denomination’s ecumenical council, for reasons the Agendas for Synod and Acts of Synod do not reveal, sent no replacement.

+++

+++The Formula of Agreement and Allied Denominations+++

+++

The RCA entered into the Formula of Agreement with the United Church of Christ (UCC), the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PC(USA)], and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in 1997.  Thus full communion–including the recognition of each other’s ministers–came into being among the four denominations.  The ELCA was also in full communion with the North American provinces of the Moravian Church, a global ecclesiastical body.  And the UCC had full communion with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) [CC(DC)].  These close relations created some tension with the UCC and the ELCA over questions regarding their increasing inclusive policies regarding non-celibate homosexuals and positions of church leadership.  (I will leave that thread unresolved until later in this post.)  And the RCA entered into bilateral and multilateral dialogue involving the Moravian Church.

The Moravian-RCA-CRCNA-UCC-CC(DC)-PC(USA)-ELCA Consultation on Scripture and Moral Decision-Making (2011-2012) started partially because of disagreements over expressions of human sexuality.  The germane report to the RCA General Synod of 2013 (Acts and Proceedings, pages 281-291) indicated that “Jesus is Lord” constituted the starting point of the discussions regarding moral discernment.  The participants:

  • Affirmed human dependence on grace;
  • Rejected cheap grace, that which demands nothing of us;
  • Affirmed God’s call to help the oppressed and to work for justice;
  • Supported honoring God in all ways, including sexuality; and
  • Agreed that Christian love entails admonishing and building each other up.

+++

+++The Roman Catholic Church+++

+++

Vatican Flag

Above:  The Flag of Vatican City

Image in the Public Domain

The RCA, CRCNA, UCC, and PC(USA) entered into dialogue with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity over a period of years.  These discussions, which Pope John Paul II initiated, grew from a round of dialogue at the Vatican in December 2000.  As time progressed the number of participating Reformed denominations increased until becoming four.  This dialogue resulted in statements on Baptism and the Holy Eucharist/Lord’s Supper before moving along to the theology of ordained ministry and its relationship to the theology of sacraments.

Dialogue of this sort entails mutual respect.  That much constitutes a vast improvement over the ecclesiastical hostility of just a few decades prior.

+++

+++The Split Peas, Et Cetera+++

+++

Burning Bush Logo

Above:  The Burning Bush Logo

Image in the Public Domain

From that happy note I turn, O reader, one of my accurate and unfortunate conclusions based on much evidence:  some of the self-identified pure are purer than others.  This explains many ecclesiastical schisms as groups break away to preserve the purity of the faith, as they understand it.  Thus, regardless of how conservative a denomination might be, there is usually at least one group to its right.  This fact helps to explain why so many denominations exist inside a particular nation-state.  The Presbyterian and Reformed family of churches in the United States and Canada constitutes a prime example of this reality.  I have to keep track of all these denominations.  I know, for example, the difference between the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the American Presbyterian Church (APC).  I can distinguish between the Presbyterian Reformed Church (PRC) and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA).  I do not confuse the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (1956-1965) for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (1981-).  Yet sometimes I experience great difficulty in discerning major differences between and among some of the denominations, some of them very small (as in just four or five congregations), in the Presbyterian and Reformed family in North America.  Certainly this kind of fractiousness was not what our Lord and Savior had in mind during his time on Earth.

+++

+++The Protestant Reformed Churches in America+++

+++

Consider, O reader, the case of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA), which split off from the CRCNA in the middle 1920s.  The founders of the PRCA rejected Common Grace theology, the affirmation that even those not among God’s Elect could function as instruments of grace.  Thus, the logic said, the holy people of God should cooperate with a variety of individuals to perform good deeds and honor God.  Common Grace theology rejected Christian separatism.  But the founders of the PRCA were hyper-Calvinists who were among the purest of the self-identified pure.  As I wrote in previous posts in this series, the Orthodox Protestant Reformed Churches in America (OPRCA) broke away in 1953, only to return to the CRC fold eight years later.  The PRCA considered the OPRCA, on the eve of its reunion with the CRCNA, to be “erring brethren” who had embarked upon an evil path in 1953.  Not surprisingly, the PRCA rebuffed all CRCNA attempts at dialogue, as late as 2003.

The CRCNA split in the 1990s; part of its right wing defected to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and another segment formed the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) in 1995.  Not even the very conservative URCNA proved sufficiently pure for the PRCA, which brought up the issue of Common Grace for three years until, in 2004, the young denomination conceded the impossibility of meaningful conversations with such an unwilling church.

+++

+++The Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches+++

+++

The URCNA, meanwhile, courted the Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches (OCRC), which traced its existence to the late 1970s and early 1980s.  The founders of the OCRC had found the CRCNA, a conservative body, too liberal, so they left.  The URCNA, after nine years of trying, succeeded in absorbing the OCRC in August 2008.

+++

+++The North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council, the Christian Reformed Church in North America, and the United Reformed Churches in North America+++

+++

The North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) had suspended the membership of the CRCNA in 1997.  The CRCNA’s offense had been to open all church offices (especially those of elder and minister) to women.  The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) had led the charge, but the four other members at the time–the Korean American Presbyterian Church (KAPC), the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC), the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA), and the rump Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS)–had voted to suspend the CRCNA’s membership.  That membership ended formally in 2002.  By then the PCA, the OPC, the KAPC, and the rump RCUS had terminated ecclesiastical relations with the CRCNA.  The RPCNA followed suit in 2003.  Nevertheless, the ARPC insisted for a few years that this matter would not affect their relationship with the CRC.  Then the ARPC broke off relations in 2011.

Thus, at the time of the CRCNA’s Synod of 2012, the list of North American denominations in ecclesiastical fellowship had shrunk to two–the RCA and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), to whom it sold Christian education materials.  In 2014 the CRCNA expanded that list to three names by adding ECO:  A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, a 2012 offshoot of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PC(USA)].  The PC(USA) had moved toward becoming more inclusive of non-celibate homosexuals in church offices.  Many of those who opposed this remained within the PC(USA), but others left.  Two of the destinations for those leaving were the EPC and the nascent ECO.

Most of the CRCNA’s erstwhile friends and allies in North America established relations or contact with the URCNA, which joined NAPARC in 2005.  The ARPC and the RPCNA had been ordaining women as deacons for a long time.  The URCNA  noted that this practice predated late twentieth-century feminism and was therefore “not the result of a liberalizing or destructive hermeneutic” (Acts of Synod, 2012, page 221).  The URCNA entered into Corresponding Relations, the entry-level relationship, with the RPCNA in 2004 and took the relationship to the next level–Ecclesiastical Fellowship–in 2012.  Contact with the ARPC, PCA, and KAPC remained intermittent through 2014.  The rump RCUS entered into Corresponding Relations in 2001 and Ecclesiastical Fellowship three years later.  The OPC entered into Corresponding Relations in 1999 and Ecclesiastical Fellowship eight years later.  Then, in 2012, the URCNA accepted the OPC’s invitation to create a joint hymnal, perhaps due for publication in late 2016, shortly after the simultaneous meetings of the URCNA Synod and the OPC General Assembly.

The URCNA sought other ecumenical partners in North America.  It came close at the Synod of 2014 to resolving to develop a plan to merge with the Canadian and American Reformed Churches (CanRC), a body with Dutch origins and founded in 1950.  At that same Synod delegates learned more about the Free Reformed Churches of North America (FRCNA), another denomination with Dutch Reformed roots and founded in the 1950s.

+++

+++South Africa+++

+++

In this series of posts I have referred to relations between and among North American and South African Dutch Reformed denominations, especially in the context of Apartheid.  Now I continue that practice.

  • The RCA and the CRCNA pursued and deepened relationships with the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA), the 1994 merge of the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (DRCA) and the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC).  Thus the URCSA became Black and Colored.
  • The CRCNA established relations with the rump DRCA.
  • The CRCNA maintained relations (established in 1982) with the Reformed Church in Africa, a denomination of mainly Indian ethnicity.
  • The CRCNA continued to relate to the Reformed Churches of South Africa (RCSA), in its several synods.  Relations, which the CRC had suspended with the national synod before the end of Apartheid because of that synod’s support for the racist policy, but restored them in the 1990s.  Nevertheless, some injured feelings persisted in the RCSA’s national synod.
  • The URCNA established relations with the RCSA in 2001.  Three years later the former cautioned the latter not to admit women to the offices of elder and minister.  The RCSA followed that advice, much to the satisfaction of the URCNA.
  • The CRCNA established relations with the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (DRCSA), the largest White denomination in the Republic of South Africa.  The RCA was already friendly with the DRCSA, which had apologized for supporting Apartheid with theology.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Flag of South Africa

Above:  The Post-Apartheid Flag of the Republic of South Africa

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Belhar Confession and Its Implications

But let justice roll down like waters,

and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

–Amos 5:24, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

+++

+++Background and Summary of the Belhar Confession (1986)+++

+++

The Belhar Confession (1986) and the adoption of it by the RCA and the CRCNA are germane to much material in this post.  Thus I begin this section with a summary of the Confession and its background.  All quotes come from the translation which the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) prepared and the RCA and the CRCNA published in Our Faith (2013), pages 145-148.  That translation is also available here.

The story of the Belhar Confession started in 1982, in the context of Apartheid in the Republic of South Africa.  The former Dutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC), which went on to merge into the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA) in 1994, approved the Belhar Confession in 1986.  In 2010 the RCA made it the fourth Form of Unity, alongside the Canons of Dort, the Belgic Confession, and the Heidelberg Catechism.  The CRCNA adopted the Belhar Confession not as the fourth Form of Unity but as an Ecumenical Faith Declaration two years later.  The CRC Synod of 2012, citing a lack of consensus in the denomination regarding the definition and role of a confession, appointed a committee to study the issue and report to the Synod of 2015.

The process of studying, debating, and approving the Belhar Confession in the RCA and the CRCNA was not without controversy.  There was a consensus that Apartheid had been sinful and unjust, and therefore consigned properly to the trash bin of history, so racism was not a major issue.  No, the Belhar Confession’s implications in other arenas made many people uncomfortable and continue to do so.  But, as an old saying tells me, one purpose of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable, as in the Beatitudes and Woes (Luke 6:20-26).  So be it.

The Belhar Confession addresses issues of church unity, human unity, reconciliation in church and society, and divine justice.  Any human system which sets people at enmity with each other

is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly…anything which threatens this unity [in Christ] may have no place in the church and must be resisted,

the document says.  Therefore the Belhar Confession rejects any role for racism in determining church membership, as it did in South Africa.  The text goes on to emphasize reconciliation via Jesus and the Holy Spirit and to

reject any doctrine which, in such a situation [of forced separation of the races] sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.

You, O reader, might be thinking something like, “So far so good.  What has been–and remains–so controversial and objectionable, except among and to White Supremacists?”  To answer that question I move along to the fourth section of the Belhar Confession, which emphasizes God’s call to establish justice and peace among people, the divine preference for the poor and the oppressed, and the church’s obligation to

stand by people, in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream

and, “as the possession of God,” to

stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that, in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.

The document therefore rejects “any ideology which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.”  The Belhar Confession concludes:

Jesus is Lord.

To the one and only God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be the honor and glory forever and ever.

What are the injustices which the church must witness against and oppose actively?  Pondering that question has made–and continues to make–many people uncomfortable.  Most of the arguments against the Belhar Confession I have read online criticism start with the “I’m not a racist, but…” defense.  Yes, Apartheid was an abomination, but there are good reasons having nothing to do with race, racism, ethnicity, and/or xenophobia to oppose the Belhar Confession, these critics write.

+++

+++Racism and Multiculturalism+++

+++

The most obvious implications of the Belhar Confession in the RCA and the CRCNA, historically and predominantly White denominations, pertain to racism (often unintentional and institutional) and multiculturalism.  The two denominations had been conducting anti-racism training  and seeking to diversify their ranks on all levels for decades by 2010 and 2012.  Since the 1980s, for example, the CRCNA had encouraged its congregations to observe All Nations Heritage Week, with a focus on a different racial or ethnic group each year.  The week ended with All Nations Heritage Sunday, the first Sunday in October.  Money from a special offering that day increased the ability of the CRC’s Race Relations Committee to award grants and scholarships to promote more diversity in denominational leadership.  And churches could combine this observance with World Communion Sunday quite easily.

The RCA General Synod of 2010 started the process which culminated in the 2013 report on White Privilege (Acts and Proceedings, page 142-163).  The report analyzed White Privilege in society and the RCA and led to a resolution to “develop an online and interactive RCA resource for freely discussing, understanding, and dismantling” it and another resolution to promote congregational partnerships across racial and ethnic lines.

+++

+++Gender:   Roles of Women+++

+++

Venus Symbol

Above:  The Venus Symbol (for Females)

Image in the Public Domain

So far, so good.  Now, however, the really controversial applications of the Belhar Confession enter the picture with issues of gender.  The sociological definition of sex is anatomy-based.  Gender consists the societal and social implications of that anatomy for one.  Does one, for example, have a glass ceiling?  And is one bitch or merely assertive?  And some cultures, by the way, have recognized more than two genders since time immemorial.  Gender is a social definition, not a biological reality.

The first gender issue to analyze in this post is that of the roles of women in the church.  I recall a story about a Roman Catholic schoolgirl.  Someone asked her how many sacraments there are.  She replied that the answer depends on whether one is male or female–a reference to the exclusively male priesthood.  The Reformed, of course, have ordination yet not as a sacrament.  Nevertheless, many women in the RCA and the CRCNA have experienced much difficulty and frustration regarding church leadership and continue to do so.

As I established in the previous post in this series, the RCA opened the offices of deacon and elder to women in 1973, six years before doing the same regarding the ordained ministry.  Then, in 1980, the RCA put two conscience clauses into place to maintain church unity and to protect ministers and other office holders who disagreed.  Over the years, however, abuses and misuses of the conscience clauses held women back and became divisive in the denomination.  The CRCNA, after more than twenty years of arguments, opened all offices to women effectively in 1995.  By 2010, however, related arguments continued and some of the Classes still refused to grant women equality in the church.

At the RCA General Synod of 2002 President John C. H. Chang noted in his report that, if his daughter did have a vocation to ordained ministry, she would “hit the wall of no-opportunity” in the denomination.  This was wrong, he said: “I’m wondering how many of our churches can accomplish the mission the Lord calls us to and keep telling our daughters ‘no'” (Acts and Proceedings, page 37).

This is a good time for numbers:

  1. Nearly two-thirds of the members of the RCA are women, and
  2. RCA seminaries, which provide strong support for female students, graduate nearly equal numbers of men and women.

Yet, according to the 2012 report of the denominational Commission for Women:

  1. There were 1,556 active clergy in the RCA.
  2. 271 (17.4%) were female.
  3. Of those 271 female ministers, 100 (36.9%) served in parish settings, 128 (47.2%) served in other capacities, and 43 (15.9%) were without charge.
  4. Of the 1,285 male ministers, however, 729 (56.7%) served in parish settings, 425 (56.7%) served in parish settings, and 131 (10.2%) were without charge.

That report continued, observing that many female ministers still experienced

instances of exclusion, inequality, and pain.  Women are still required to defend their calling and their ordination in the assemblies of the RCA, including on the floor of the General Synod, in a way that their male colleagues are not.

The General Synod of 2012 voted to remove the conscience clauses.  The requisite two-thirds of Classes had approved this change to the Book of Church Order by the time the General Synod of 2013 convened.  That year the General Synod Council decreed:

The RCA will be a fellowship of congregations in which all women are equipped and empowered to fully exercise their gifts in the life, ministry, mission, and offices of the church.

Acts and Proceedings, page 212

That report went on to detail procedures for helping women advance in the denomination.

The passage of time will reveal the resolution of this matter.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

+++

+++Gender:  Homosexuality and Homophobia+++

+++

Marriage Equality

Above:  The Marriage Equality Sign

Found in many places on the Internet

The RCA and the CRCNA are not ready for this yet.

The most common objection I have read to the Belhar Confession in “I’m not a racist, but…” critiques online regards homosexuality, a concept the document never mentions to alludes to directly.  One can, however, recognize the Belhar Confession’s implications regarding homosexuality and homophobia quite easily.

Both the RCA and the CRCNA contain a wide range of attitudes toward homosexuals and homosexuals; official documents have admitted this frankly.  And both denominations continue to maintain officially, with nuances, that, although the proper approach to these questions is one grounded in compassion, brotherly love, and the theology of the image of God (Genesis 1:27), same-sex desire is sinful (even if one has not chosen it) and ordination and same-sex unions are off-limits.

I do have one question before I proceed:  Can sin exist in the absence of choice?

Both the RCA and the CRCNA have also recognized their official failings to live up to their pastoral statements regarding the spiritual care of homosexuals since they started making such statements in the early 1970s.  Yes, homophobia is alive and well in the church, unfortunately.

Debates over homosexuality have threatened the unity of the RCA, which has a stronger liberal wing than does the CRCNA.  A dialogue regarding the topic started in the 2005 and continued for a few years.  During that time the General Synod rejected a barrage of anti-homosexual overtures and urged Classes and congregations not to press judicial actions.  Assemblies followed that advice according to a notice at the General Synod of 2011.

The RCA, which restated its support for full civil liberties and rights in 2006, refused to consider the question of same-sex unions and marriage solely in the context of human rights and civil rights, adding Reformed theology to the mix.  At the conclusion of the multi-year dialogue, in 2012, the General Synod resolved that “any person, congregation, or assembly which advocates homosexual behavior or provides leadership for a service of same-sex marriage or a similar celebration has committed a disciplineable offense” and created a committee “to pray and work together to present a way forward for our denomination” regarding the issue.  And the General Synod of 2014 started the process of amending the Book of Church Order to define marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Delegates to the General Synod of 2014, according to the official summary available at the RCA website, “chose not to state that the history of the RCA’s stated position is nuanced and that a wide array of perspectives regarding same-sex relationships exists in the RCA.” This puzzles me, for I understand the documented reality of the matter.  First, the history of the RCA’s stated position is nuanced.  I refer you, O reader, to “A Historical Survey of the Actions of the General Synod with Regard to Homosexuality:  1974-2012” (Acts and Proceedings, 2012, pages 334-340).  As for choosing not to say that a wide array of perspectives regarding same-sex relationships exists within the RCA, I could point to numerous examples to demonstrate that such an array exists, but two will suffice.  (I will not “flip note cards” on you, O reader.)  A report to the General Synod of 2009 reads in part:

Widely scattered views characterize RCA members’ beliefs about homosexuality….It would be unfair to many RCA members to represent their positions as lying along a line that is drawn, for example, between “open and affirming” on the one hand and “hate the sin but love the sinner” on the other.

Acts and Proceedings, page 105

And, four years earlier, the Commission on Christian Action report regarding homosexuality acknowledged the lack of consensus, even among its own members.  Instead the report of 2005 (Acts and Proceedings, pages 364-372) contained verbatim perspectives of the commission members.

Homosexuality became a sticking point with some of the RCA’s ecumenical partners who had moved to ordain non-celibate homosexuals.  Thus the RCA, rejecting overtures to terminate these ecumenical relationships, entered instead into dialogue first with the United Church of Christ (UCC) then the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  These dialogues entailed statements of disapproval and concern sometimes, but the old RCA desire for church unity over ecclesiastical purity won the argument.

Perhaps the most publicized case regarding homosexuality in the RCA was that of the Reverend Doctor Norman Kansfield, President of New Brunswick Theological Seminary until June 2005.  Kansfield got into trouble when, in June 2004, he presided over the wedding of his daughter, Ann Margaret Kansfield, to Jennifer Aull.  This act of a doting father and father-in-law led to his suspension from ordained ministry and removal from the presidency of the seminary.  The General Synod of 2005 also denied him the status of General Synod Professor Emeritus on the grounds that it had removed him from office.  The three charges, as Acts and Proceedings, 2005, pages 43-52, contain them, were that:

  1. Kansfield had acted “contrary to our faith and beliefs as affirmed by the Holy Scriptures and the decisions of General Synod concerning the relationship of active homosexuality;”
  2. He had contradicted his ordination affirmation:  “I promise to work in the Spirit of Christ, in love and fellowship within the church, seeking all things that make for unity, purity, and peace;” and
  3. He had violated his promise to submit himself “to the counsel and admonition of the General Synod, always ready, with gentleness and reverence, to give an account of my understanding of the Christian faith” by not doing so at the General Synod of 2004, prior to the wedding in Massachusetts.

Kansfield’s period of suspension ended in October 2011.  By that time the UCC had ordained both his daughter and daughter-in-law, who, as I type these words, serve as co-pastors of the Greenpoint Reformed Church, Brooklyn, New York, New York.  The RCA might not ordain practicing homosexuals, but its decentralized structure provides a back door by which a RCA congregation may call a practicing homosexual minister.

The CRCNA also contains a range of opinions regarding homosexuality.  The First Christian Reformed Church of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, is one of the most liberal congregations in the denomination.  It became the first church within the CRC to call a female pastor.  And, in 2002, it opened church offices to homosexuals living in monogamous relationships.  The Classis forced the congregation to back down, but the the First CRC website, as of the day I type these words, presents the Statement of Faith and Action, dated September 29, 2002:

We believe that all people are created in the image of God and are unconditionally loved by God. We are committed to embrace people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientation, differing abilities, ethnic origins, and economic circumstances. We affirm that all who seek to live faithfully, that is confessing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, are full participants in the life, membership, sacraments and leadership of this congregation. Our desire is to build community in the midst of differences and strive to honour God’s greatest commandment, to love one another as Christ loves us.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

+++

+++Economic Justice+++

+++

Thus says the LORD:

For three transgressions of Israel,

and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,

because they sell the righteous for silver,

and the needy for a pair of sandals–

they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,

and push the afflicted out of the way….

–Amos 2:6-7a, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Another implication of the Belhar Confession is economic justice, one of the major themes–more prominent than sexuality and expressions thereof, in fact– in the Bible.  I could provide an extensive catalog of RCA and CRCNA actions regarding economic justice, but three examples will suffice:

  1. In 2007 the RCA supported the living wage–a higher minimum wage–as a moral issue.
  2. That year the RCA called for a change in U.S. policies regarding Cuba, for “The new restrictions and the ongoing embargo are driven not by Christian love but by the political fears of an administration that benefited from sustaining a conflict from long ago.”  The RCA favored “a better way of being in relation to Cuba, a way that is built on unity, reconciliation, and justice” (Acts and Proceedings, pp. 259-260).
  3. In 2009 the CRCNA supported the Accra Confession:  Covenanting for Justice (2004), a response to economic injustice, environmental degradation, and the failure of the church to address these issues properly, especially in the Third World.

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apotheosis-of-war

Above:  The Apotheosis of War, By Vasily Vereshchagin

Image in the Public Domain

+++

+++War and Peace+++

+++

Yet another implication of the Belhar Confession concerns questions of war and peace.

The CRCNA made a pronouncement about war and peace in 1939.  The denomination has updated that position occasionally over the subsequent decades while maintaining much consistency.  There are just wars and unjust wars, the CRC says.  Both militarism and full-blown pacifism are errors, it tells people.  And selective conscientious objectors deserve the church’s support.  This last point has proven controversial within the CRC for some time.

The CRCNA updated its policy to reflect post-9/11 realities in 2006.  The denomination reaffirmed the 1982 conclusion that nuclear weapons are not “legitimate means of warfare” and the related call to reduce the supply of such weapons.  The CRCNA, stressing the call upon Christians to make peace, addressed the question of preemptive military action.  Such action

is justified under certain circumstances, when the threat of attack is imminent.  However, preventive warfare, initiating military action against a country or government that poses no near-term threat, amounts to little more than illegitimate aggression by the country that initiates the military action.

Agenda for Synod, page 382-382

The 2006 report which the Synod adopted, also called for good treatment of selective conscientious objectors in the military.  When the discharge comes, it should be an honorable one, the CRC stated.  This point caused much consternation at the Synod.

The CRCNA was talking about the war in Iraq without using the country’s name.  The RCA did use the name “Iraq,” voting down an overture to call for an end to that conflict.  The previous year the RCA had rejected an overture to condemn preemptive warfare.

The RCA General Synod of 2003 referred a report, “Thinking Critically About Security:  Following Christ in an Age of Terror” (Acts and Proceedings, pages 116-121) to congregations for study.  According to that document, the principles for thinking about security were:

  1. God is the all-in-all; security is not;
  2. Security is inclusive of the world, not restricted to particular nation-states;
  3. National self-interest is not global security;
  4. Insecurity is holistic of sin, racism, injustice, disease, hunger, et cetera; and
  5. Superpowers do not bring about global security; love does.

Both the RCA and the CRCNA have joined the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), founded in 2006.  Thus both have endorsed the following statement:

Torture Is a Moral Issue

Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear.  It degrades everyone involved–policy-makers, perpetrators, and victims.  It contradicts our nation’s most cherished ideals.  Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatments are shocking and morally intolerable.

Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of the nation.  What does it signify if torture is allowed in deed?  Let America abolish now–without exceptions.

Acts and Proceedings, 2008, page 230

Flag of Israel

Above:  The Flag of the State of Israel

Image in the Public Domain

The RCA also made pronouncements regarding the issue of Israel-Palestine, especially the conditions in the Occupied Territories and the circumstances of Palestinian Christians.  The General Synod of 2010 approved an overture to form the Working Group on Peace and Justice in Israel and the Occupied Territories.  The Working Group’s interim report of 2011 (Acts and Proceedings, pages 90-92) told stories of Palestinians and Israelis who had suffered from violence.  The 2012 report (Acts and Proceedings, pages 109-121), citing the Belhar Confession, called for:

  1. the end of the Israeli occupation,
  2. safety and security for Israel and Palestine,
  3. full rights for both populations, and
  4. the cessation of violence in the area.

The General Synod approved the report.

Flag of the Palestinian National Authority

Above:  The Flag of the Palestinian National Authority

Image in the Public Domain

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III.  WORSHIP AND LITURGY

As I have written in this post, liturgy is an extension of theology.  So, for example, theology of marriage influences the content of a form for the wedding ceremony and the existence or absence of a rite for same-sex unions.  I have, therefore, covered some liturgical ground in the previous section, “Theological Foundations.”  Now we are off to the races.

Diversity and Theology of Worship

I read on Facebook recently that, when a new wind blows, some people build a wall and others erect a windmill.  Which response is proper depends upon the nature of the new wind, for not everything new (or at least new to one) is inherently positive nor is all that is traditional bad (or at least outmoded) by nature.  Likewise, not all that is traditional is inherently good nor is everything that is new (at least to one) good by nature.  The best policy is to evaluate each tradition and innovation on its own merits or lack thereof.  That is, of course, a subjective decision; how can it be otherwise?

CRCNA officialdom evaluated traditions and innovations in worship.  The Synod of 2008 approved the revised Our World Belongs to God:  A Contemporary Testimony (1986), intended for use in worship and updated to the post-Cold War, post-9/11, new technological, and other realities.  A report to the Synod of 2011 expressed concerns regarding the widespread discontinuity with tradition in the denomination:

There is an increasing diversity of worship in the churches.  While this can indeed be healthy, it can also introduce the danger of liturgical anarchy, a loss of distinctly Reformed worship, and a loss of the adhesion of an important “glue” that might hold us together in our increasingly fragmented denomination.

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+++Pentecostalism+++

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One element of this diversity was Pentecostalism, something which caused grave concern in official CRC circles.  The General Synod of 1971 approved an overture to appoint a committee to study and offer guidance regarding the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the context of the Charismatic movement, or Neo-Pentecostalism, “as it is creeping into our denomination” and causing “unrest and confusion” in the CRCNA.  The subsequent 1973 report rejected the Charismatic movement as non-Scriptural and non-Reformed, describing it as an “error” and led to the denomination barring from church office anyone who affirmed the second-blessing teaching.  In 2007 and 2009 the CRCNA addressed Third Wave Pentecostalism, cautious of the theology of prophecy as well as of emotionalism in worship.

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+++The Reformed Church in America and the Worship Survey of 2004+++

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The RCA’s 2004 Worship Survey yielded interesting results.  Some of these pertained to the choice(s) of hymnal(s) on the congregational level.  Partial results follow.

There was no single hymnbook dominant in the RCA, despite the existence of an official main hymnal and an authorized supplement to it.  The top rankings, in descending order, were:

  1. The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration (non-denominational, 1986)–16.2%;
  2. Sing! A New Creation (RCA and CRCNA, 2001)–16%;
  3. The Celebration Hymnal (non-denominational, 1997)–8.7%;
  4. The Hymnbook (RCA, Presbyterian Church in the United States, Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., United Presbyterian Church of North America, and Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, 1955)–6.9%;
  5. The Worshiping Church (non-denominational, 1990)–6.2%;
  6. Hymns for the Family of God (non-denominational, 1976)–4.9%;
  7. Hymns, Psalms and Spiritual Songs (ecumenical edition of The Presbyterian Hymnal, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 1990);
  8. Sing Joyfully (non-denominational, 1989)–3.5%;
  9. Praise! Our Songs and Hymns (non-denominational, 1979)–3%;
  10. Rejoice in the Lord (RCA official hymnal, 1985)–2.7%; and
  11. Hymns for the Living Church (non-denominational, 1974)–2.7%.

Sixty-eight other hymnals, some of them local productions, rounded out the English-language list.  Also, 1.9% of congregations reported using non-English-language hymnals.

Non-Denominational

Above:  Copies of Some of the Non-Denominational Hymnals from the Worship Survey of 2004

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

How many Scripture readings do people hear read in Sunday morning worship?

  1. One–56.2%
  2. Two–37.3%
  3. Three–14.3%
  4. No response–2.4%

From which translation?

  1. New International Version (NIV)–62.2%
  2. New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)–25%
  3. Revised Standard Version (RSV)–8.9%
  4. Other–11.8%

73% of congregations reported extemporaneous prayers.

84.7% of congregations reported following the basic structure of worship the RCA set forth in its Liturgy.

How often do congregations celebrate the Lord’s Supper annually?

  1. More than twelve–24.2%
  2. Six–19.9%
  3. Twelve–15.5%
  4. Five–10.1%
  5. Eight–8.3%
  6. Four–7.4%
  7. Seven–7.1%
  8. Ten–4.7%
  9. Nine–2.2%
  10. Eleven–0.5%

Does the minister wear a robe?

  1. Never–43.2%
  2. Always–28.5%
  3. Sometimes–28.2%

Are there paraments?

  1. Yes–68.5%
  2. No–31.5%

If so, does the church change the colors according to the church year?

  1. Yes–92.6%
  2. No–6.2%
  3. No reply–1.2%

Are there banners?

  1. Yes–73.5%
  2. No–26.5%

Which seasons of the church year do congregations observe?

  1. Advent–96.8%
  2. Christmas–92.9%
  3. Ordinary Time/Season after Epiphany–44.9%
  4. Lent–90.4%
  5. Easter–92.6%
  6. Ordinary Time/Season after Pentecost–50.8%

80.3% of congregations reported using praise choruses.

Which creed(s) do congregations use in worship?

  1. Apostles’–87.7%
  2. Nicene–44.3%
  3. Other–27.9%

Regional differences became clear:

  1. Worship was more traditional in the East than in the Midwest and the West.
  2. Use of the lectionary was more common in the East than in the Midwest and the West.
  3. Children were most likely to be welcome to take the Lord’s Supper in the Northeast.
  4. Paraments were most common in the East.
  5. Banners were most common in the Midwest.
  6. 62% of congregations in the Synod of the Far West used a RCA-approved rite for the Lord’s Supper.  Over 80% of congregations in the other synods did this.

Overall, the use of approved baptismal and Eucharistic rites remained constant (about 85-90%) from the previous survey, that of 1994.

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+++Bible Translations+++

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Both the RCA and the CRCNA expanded their lists of Bible translations approved for use in worship.  Going into 2001, the RCA had approved, among others, the NIV, the RSV, and the NRSV.  The latter was the preferred official translation.  In 2007 the RCA added Today’s New International Version (TNIV) to the list.  The CRCNA, going into 2001, had approved the Authorized (King James) Version (1611/1769), the American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901, the RSV, the NIV, and the NRSV.  To this list it added the English Standard Version (ESV) in 2007 and the New Living Translation (NLT) the following year.

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Forms

Some denominations have books of worship to which parishioners have access in congregations.  Roman Catholic publishers make available an array of Missals and Missalettes.  Lutherans have, as a matter of tradition, included forms for worship in their hymnals.  And my adopted denomination, The Episcopal Church, uses The Book of Common Prayer (1979), supplemented by subsequent authorized resources.

Other denominations have official yet seldom-used books of worship.  In the U.S.A., for example, there has been a lineage of Books of Common Worship in mainline Presbyterianism since 1906, the most recent debuting in 1993.  Likewise, the current United Methodist Book of Worship (1992) is the third volume in a lineage which reaches back to World War II.  Most United Methodists I have asked since 1992 and the majority of members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) I have asked since 1993 have not heard of their denominational book of worship.  Most of that minority which has heard of it has not seen it.  Yet I, an Episcopalian, have a copy of each.  It is bad when one knows less about one’s own denomination than someone outside of it.

Methodist-Presbyterian

Above:  My Copies of These Books

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Both the RCA and the CRCNA have, as a matter of tradition, well-defined liturgical forms, most of which have been available to lay members and clergy alike.  In the old days these came bound with the hymnal.  Today, however, one may find them or most of them available easily at denominational websites.  Yet, given the variety in worship in the RCA and the CRCNA, there is demand for a volume of resources consistent with the Reformed orders of service that is not a formal book of services.

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+++The Worship Sourcebook (2004 and 2013)+++

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The Worship Sourcebook (First Edition in 2004, Second Edition in 2013) is not a volume like the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (1993), that is, a full-blown service book.  No, the Sourcebook is exactly what the title indicates–a book which functions as a source of numerous prayers, litanies, et cetera, grouped according to element of worship, such as Prayers of Confession or Assurances of Pardon or Prayers of the People.  It does, however, derive much content from the Book of Common Worship (1993), which, in turn, quoted resources of a wide range of denominations.  The first edition of the Sourcebook sold well–“beyond expectations,” as a report to the CRCNA Synod of 2005 stated.  This volume, a joint project of Faith Alive Christian Resources (the common publisher of the RCA and the CRC) and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, went into the second edition in 2013.  I own a copy of this edition.

The 844-page Second Edition, which comes with a CD inside the back cover so that people can add content easily to church bulletins, opens with a Prologue explaining the history of Reformed worship and justifying the volume’s existence.  Traditionally, worship in European Reformed churches was “by the book,” as it was during the early colonial period in North America.  Yet Pietism, Revivalism, and the conditions of the American frontier took their tolls.  The abandonment of tradition became its own tradition.

The Preface to the Second Edition, on page 9, offers this reflection on styles of worship:

Broadly speaking, worship in just about any style suffers when it slips into mindless routine that fails to appreciate the formative power of habitual action to shape us as Christian disciples.  Worship also suffers from endless innovation that constantly casts about for the latest fad.  Between these two extremes lies the wisdom of “disciplined innovation,” in which pastoral leaders, like jazz musicians, draw upon ancient patterns and forms and then prayerfully, communally, adapt them to address local needs, circumstances, and opportunities.

In other words, freedom requires structure in order to avoid becoming anarchy.

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+++Liturgies of the Reformed Church in America+++

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The RCA has published revised and formal volumes of Liturgy occasionally, placing between two covers all the authorized services as of a certain time.  Thus, since the dawn of the twentieth century, the denomination has done this in 1906, 1968, 1987/1990, and 2005.  In the previous post in this series I wrote about Worship the Lord (1987) and listed forms which the RCA had authorized between then and 2000.  I will not repeat that content here.

Worship the Lord:  The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America (2005) a handsome gray volume with three tastefully colored ribbons, contains all the forms authorized in the RCA as of the date of publication.  Thus it contains much material the denomination authorized prior to 2001.  The service forms approved for regular use since 2001 are:

  1. Order for Profession of Faith,
  2. Order for the Ordination and Installation of Elders and Deacons,
  3. Order for Commissioning Christians to the Ministries of the Church,
  4. Order for Recognition of Ministries in the Church,
  5. Order for Christian Marriage,
  6. Order for Christian Burial:  A Service of Witness to the Resurrection,
  7. Order for Ordination to the Office of Minister of Word and Sacrament,
  8. Order for Reception into the Classis and Installation of a Minister of Word and Sacrament, and
  9. Order for Commissioning a Minister of Word and Sacrament into a Specialized Ministry.

Since the publication of Worship the Lord (2005) the RCA has made other forms available for use.  Two of these are the Proposed Order for the Organization of a New Chruch and the Order for Commissioning a Commissioned Pastor (2011) are two of them.  The next three pertain to Christian initiation.  Baptism and profession of faith are occurring more frequently in adults not raised in Christian households.  The RCA’s former default setting was infant or child baptism.  Now, however, adult baptism has become the default setting.  With this reality comes an amplification of missional emphases in new forms for these services.  Thus the newest RCA forms for Christian initiation are:

  1. Celebrating the Baptismal Covenant:  A Combined Order for Baptism, Profession of Faith, and Reaffirmation of Faith;
  2. Celebrating the Baptismal Covenant:  The Order for Profession of Faith and the Baptism of Youth and Adults; and
  3. Celebrating the Baptismal Covenant:  The Order for Baptism of Children.

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+++A Common Form for the Baptismal Certificate+++

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Dialogue among the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the RCA, the CRCNA, the United Church of Christ (UCC), and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PC(USA)] resulted in two reports–one on Baptism and the other on the Holy Eucharist/Lord’s Supper–in 2011 then in denominational studies of them.  One tangible result of the study on Baptism was a common Certificate of Baptism (CRC, Agenda for Synod, 2011, page 356), the text of which follows:

Name was baptized with flowing water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit at name of the congregation by name of the minister.  Signature.  Date.

This shared certificate comes with the mutual recognition of Baptism across these denominational lines–Reformed and Roman Catholic.

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+++Reformed Ecumenicity in Liturgy+++

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The CRCNA Synod of 2013 expanded the range of authorized forms for Baptism and profession of faith with rites based on the most recent germane RCA rituals (CRC, Agenda for Synod, pages 333-347).  This action filled some needs in the CRCNA and demonstrated ecumenicity with the RCA.

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+++Approved Eucharistic Rites for Occasional Use+++

+++

Meanwhile, the RCA was approving Eucharistic rites for occasional use, especially in congregations which used contemporary worship and often improvised abbreviated forms.  In 2008, after several years of study and contemplation, the Commission for Christian Worship proposed to write some briefer forms but mainly to solicit them and to suggest extant third-party forms for the General Synod to approve.  So, with General Synod approval for this plan, the Commission went to work.  In 2009 the Commission suggested the following, all of which the General Synod approved:

  1. The Lima Eucharistic Liturgy (1986),
  2. The Consultation on Church Union Liturgy (1988),
  3. The Formula of Agreement Liturgy (1998), and
  4. Occasional Use Liturgy Number 1 (2009).

Acts and Proceedings, pages 278-288

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+++The United Reformed Churches in North America+++

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The United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA), formed in 1995 from the CRCNA, had adopted the liturgical forms in the Psalter Hymnal (1959/1976) in 1996 and modified the Form of Subscription to the Canons of Dort the following year.  These decisions made sense, for most of these congregations sang out of the that hymnbook anyway, having not switched to the Psalter Hymnal (1987) years before.

The time to revise old forms and create new ones did arrive, however.  So, starting in 2007 and continuing through 2012, the URCNA developed, revised, and adopted the following:

  1. Prayers,
  2. Form for Frequent Celebration of the Lord’s Supper,
  3. Form for the Reception of Families,
  4. Form Number 1 for the Baptism of Infants,
  5. Form Number 1 for the Profession of Faith,
  6. Form Number 1 for Adult Baptism,
  7. Form Number 1 for the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper,
  8. Form for Excommunication,
  9. Form for Readmission,
  10. Form for the Installation of a Minister of the Word,
  11. Form for the Installation of Elders and Deacons,
  12. Two forms for the Solemnization of Marriage,
  13. Form Number 2 for Baptism (based on Form Number 3 from the Psalter Hymnal of 1959/1976), and
  14. Form Number 2 for the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper (based on Form Number 3 from the Psalter Hymnal of 1959/1976).

As of the conclusion of the URCNA Synod of 2012, unfinished business included the translations of the three ecumenical creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian) and the three Forms of Unity (the Canons of Dort, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Belgic Confession).  (Sources for this information = Acts of Synod, 2007, pages 298-308; Acts of Synod, 2010, pages 485-537; and Acts of Synod, 2012, pages 355-438.)  The Acts of Synod for 2014 are not available as of the time of the drafting and typing of this post, but official summaries of the Synod of 2014 available at the denominational website tell me that the Synod of 2016 will inherit the unfinished business I have described.

And, by the way, according to the Acts of Synod for 2010, the Bible translation quoted in revised forms is the English Standard Version (ESV).

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The Relationship Between Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

The RCA decided in 1988 and reaffirmed the following year to admit baptized children who had yet to make a profession of faith to the table of the Lord’s Supper, at the discretion of local congregational leaders.  The CRCNA refused to go that far in the 1990s.  Instead it insisted that the only children permitted to take Communion were those who had made a profession of faith.  Therefore the CRCNA Synod of 1995 approved a new form for the public profession of faith by children as the denomination pushed for professions of faith at younger ages.

The CRCNA came around to the RCA’s position in 2006, adopting the recommendation allowing “for the admission of all baptized members to the Lord’s Supper on the basis of their membership in the covenant community.”  The Synod of 2007 appointed a committee to study the issue.  The Faith Formation Committee’s 2011 report affirmed the decision of 2006:  Profession of faith is not a requirement for partaking of the Lord’s Supper in all congregations.  No, “age and ability-appropriate obedience” constitutes the proper context for understanding participation in that sacrament.  The same report affirmed the sacrament of Baptism as a prerequisite for taking Communion.

The RCA revised and updated its advisory materials for congregational leaders regarding the admission of young children to the Lord’s Table.  In 2013 the General Synod Council prepared an interactive resource to accompany the CRC’s 2011 document, A Place at the Table:  Welcoming Children to the Lord’s Supper:  A Guide for Congregations.  And, the following year, the General Synod approved updated guidelines for permitting young children to participate in the sacrament, which the RCA had requested all of its congregations to celebrate more frequently ten years prior.

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Infant Baptism and Infant Dedication

These discussions regarding admitting young children to the Lord’s Table overlapped with questions of infant dedication, which some RCA and CRCNA congregations permitted in lieu of infant Baptism.  The Baptism of infants is consistent with Reformed sacramental practice and tradition.  It is also consistent with the sacramental practice of tradition of the vast majority of Christianity.  The Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Anglican denominations, and many Protestant communions–such as the Lutherans and the Methodists–also baptize infants and have done so for a long time–almost two thousand years in the case of Rome.  All these communions constitute probably at least 80% of the Christian Church, so they are hardly outliers.  Yet the RCA and the CRCNA had to deal with questions of the legitimacy of infant Baptism in the 200os.

The RCA General Synod of 2004 reminded people that the practice was not only normative but rooted in covenant theology.  The CRCNA Synod of 2007 agreed and also discouraged infant dedication.  The Synod of 2011 repeated this affirmation of infant Baptism.    The next year’s Synod stated that the practice is consistent with Scripture and repeated the discouragement of infant dedication.  The Synod continued:

Congregations should minister to those who will not present their children for infant baptism with a spirit of gratitude to God for the gift of these children, offering encouragement and accountability to parents as part of faithful, pastoral ministry

while teaching regarding infant Baptism (Acts of Synod, 2012, page 775).

And who may present a child for the sacrament of Baptism?  The RCA dealt with that issue.  The General Synod of 2006 required that at least one guardian or adult relative be a “confessing member” of the congregation in which the sacrament occurs.  The next year’s General Synod resolved that church elders, already responsible for deciding who may join a congregation, having a role in hearing public processions of faith, and governing admission to the Lord’s Table, will also decide where primary parental responsibility resides regarding the Baptism of a child.  This last provision is necessary sometimes, given the realities of shared custody of children after divorce.

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Hymnals

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+++Sing! A New Creation (2001)+++

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I wrote about Sing! A New Creation (2001) in the previous post in this series, for work on it was mostly complete before 2001.  Yet the topic bears repetition here.  The joint RCA-CRCNA project, containing 294 songs, all from the latter half of the twentieth century, contained a variety of styles, including Taize music, world music, praise songs, and Roman Catholic folk hymns.  It sold well, according to Faith Alive Christian Resources reports to CRCNA Synods.  And it sold beyond the core RCA-CRCNA market, for one of my sources mentioned that he knew of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) congregations which sang out of it.  As I have written already in this post, the 2004 Worship Survey revealed that only 16% of RCA congregations sang out of Sing! A New Creation.  That survey also documented the plethora of hymnals (mostly mildly Evangelical and quite contemporary) in use in the RCA.

Lift Up Your Hearts

Above:  Lift Up Your Hearts (2013), Its Two Official Predecessors, and Our Faith (2013)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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+++Lift Up Your Hearts and Our Faith (2013)+++

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Work on Lift Up Your Hearts:  Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs (2013), successor to the CRCNA’s Psalter Hymnal (1987), official successor to the RCA’s Rejoice in the Lord (1985), and actual successor to a bevy of hymnals RCA congregations used, started in 2007.  Along the way Faith Alive Christian Resources created some precursor hymnals:

  1. Contemporary Songs for Worship (2008), with 37 hymns;
  2. Singing the New Testament (2008), with 260 hymns;
  3. Hymns for Worship (2009), with 256 hymns; and
  4. Global Songs for Worship (2010), with 57 hymns.

A 2007 survey of CRC congregations helped to define the reality of the context in which the joint hymnal committee worked:

  1. 60% of congregations had blended worship services,
  2. 70% had the Psalter Hymnal (1987) in the pews or chairs,
  3. 12% had the Psalter Hymnal (1959/1976) in the pews or chairs, and
  4. 60% always or usually sang out of a hymnal.

Official hymns of the two denominations, as a matter of tradition, contained the confessions of faith.  Yet, by 2011, few RCA and CRCNA congregations used those in worship.  Also, the joint committee targeted the ecumenical Reformed market, not just the two primary denominations.  So the creeds and confessions found a home in Our Faith (2013), a paperback book, and more songs filled the space of those documents would have occupied otherwise.

During my research for this post I consulted the website for Lift Up Your Hearts, a treasure trove of useful information despite the fact that it refers to the Psalter Hymnal (1959) as being from 1957.  There I read the names of congregations which had purchased the new hymnal.  Most of these came from the RCA and the CRCNA, but others belonged to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PC(USA)] and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), as of early July 2014.  (Yes, I checked congregational websites.)  And I read that, of the more than 850 songs in Lift Up Your Hearts,

  1. 136 came from the Psalter Hymnal (1959/1976),
  2. 302 came from the Psalter Hymnal (1987),
  3. 214 came from The Worshiping Church (1990), and
  4. 126 came from Sing! A New Creation.

Glory to God

Above:  Glory to God:  The Presbyterian Hymnal (2013) and Its Three Immediate Predecessors

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a cousin of the RCA and CRCNA, also published a new hymnbook in 2013.  Glory to God:  The Presbyterian Hymnal and Lift Up Your Hearts are more contemporary than their immediate authorized predecessors.  The Hymnbook (1955), traditional when it was new, is a forebear of both 2013 hymnals, in fact.  Both Glory to God and Lift Up Your Hearts contain praise songs, world music, Roman Catholic hymns, Taize music, and traditional hymns.  Yet Glory to God tilts toward the traditional and Lift Up Your Hearts toward the contemporary.

Lift Up Your Hearts comes in a variety of editions–pews, reading, digital, and projection.  This diversity of formats appeals to a range of tastes, from the traditional, “give me a hardcover hymnal” school to those who project words onto a screen.

The organization of songs and other content in Lift Up Your Hearts indicates two headings with sections and subsections present.  The first heading is “The Story of Creation and Redemption,” or from creation to the Second Coming and the new creation.  This, by the way, is the entire organizational principle of the much-maligned (especially in the RCA) Rejoice in the Lord (1985).  The second heading is “Worshiping the Triune God,” with material arranged according to the Reformed order of worship, from “Opening of Worship” to “Sent Out.”

The very nice companion volume to Lift Up Your Hearts is Our Faith:  Ecumenical Creeds, Reformed Confessions, and Other Resources (2013).  It includes three sections:

  1. Ecumenical Creeds (Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian),
  2. Confessions (the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort), and
  3. Testimonies (Our Song of Hope, RCA, 1978; and Our World Belongs to God:  A Contemporary Testimony, second edition, CRCNA, 2008).

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+++Psalms for All Seasons:  A Complete Psalter for Worship (2012)+++

+++

Another product of Faith Alive Christian Resources intended for the RCA, the CRCNA, and the ecumenical Reformed market is Psalms for All Seasons:  A Complete Psalter for Worship (2012).  This volume, at more than 1132 pages, with Psalm settings filling pages 2-1110 and Canticle settings (the Songs of Zechariah, Mary, and Simeon) filling pages 1012-1029, is the largest Psalter in North America.  It contains hymns based on Psalms as well as translations from a range of sources.  Some of these sources include:

  1. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), from which the first translation of each Psalm comes;
  2. The New International Version (NIV);
  3. The New Living Translation (NLT);
  4. The Message (Eugene Peterson);
  5. Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), the hymnal-service book of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA); and
  6. The Book of Common Prayer (1979), of The Episcopal Church.

In the back of the book one finds the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) and the following services:

  1. Morning Prayer;
  2. Noon Prayer;
  3. Evening Prayer;
  4. Night Prayer; and
  5. Service of Prayer for a Meeting, Class, or Conference.

URCNA-OPC

Above:  URCNA and OPC Hymnals

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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+++The United Reformed Churches in North America+++

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As I have written in this post, most congregations of the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) sing out of the CRCNA Psalter Hymnal of 1959/1976, a book whose reprinting the URCNA Synod has authorized twice.  Nevertheless, work on a new hymnal has been underway–with some changes of course along the way–since 1997.

The URCNA Synod of 2001 authorized work with the Canadian and American Reformed Churches (CanRC) on a joint metrical Psalter.  The CanRC was developing a successor to its Book of Praise (1984), the dominant portion of which was the Psalter.  Likewise, the Psalter was to constitute the main portion of the next URCNA hymnal.  Until the URCNA Synod of 2007 URCNA and CanRC hymnal committees were under the impression that they might be working on the same future hymnbook.  The URCNA Synod declared, however, that such ideas were mistaken.  The assignment was to work on a joint metrical Psalter alone.  So the CanRC Synod of 2007 authorized a revision of the Psalter work completed so far in advance of the publication of the new Book of Praise in 2010.  I found the PDF version of that 2010 hymnal with a simple Google search and have added it to my collection.

So, for five years (2007-2012), the URCNA labored to produce its new hymnal as a solo project.  Since hymnal revision costs money and publishers seek to recover their costs, concern over how to accomplish that goal was understandable.  There were also purposes to keep the cost per copy to a minimum and to maintain unity and identity within the URCNA.  Thus the Synod of 2012 approved an overture to require that congregations purchase the new hymnal when available.

Then, in 2012, the URCNA accepted an invitation from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) to work on a joint hymnal.  Thus the new hymnbook would succeed both the Psalter Hymnal (1959/1976) and the Trinity Hymnal–Revised Edition, the 1990 joint hymnbook of the OPC and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).  The estimated date of publication of the embryonic hymnal is late 2016, shortly after the anticipated approval by the URCNA Synod and the OPC General Assembly, meeting simultaneously in the same city.  There are plans for separate URCNA and OPC editions, due to different rites.  The most recent news I have found is that the URCNA Synod of 2014 approved the Psalter portion.

All my attempts to learn what plans the PCA has for its next hymnal have proven fruitless.  Some options come to mind, however:

  1. Singing out of reprinted editions of old hymnals is a feasible option.  The OPC’s Trinity Hymnal (1961) remains in print and in use, after all.  The same could become true of the 1990 OPC-PCA Trinity Hymnal.
  2. Some PCA congregations might use the new URCNA-OPC hymnal.  Besides, many congregations outside the OPC and the PCA sing out of the 1990 Trinity Hymnal.
  3. Some PCA congregations might find Lift Up Your Hearts (2013) to be a good fit.
  4. And there are, of course, for those who prefer hymnals yet find none of the above options palatable, non-denominational hymnbooks.

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+++Informed Musings on Shared Official Reformed Hymnals+++

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Sharing an official hymnal in the history of U.S. Presbyterian and Reformed bodies does not necessarily precede organic union.

  1. The Hymnal of the Reformed Church (1920) did not lead to the union of the RCA and the old Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS); the latter became part of the Evangelical and Reformed Church (ERC) in 1934 instead.  Today its legacy lives mainly in the United Church of Christ (UCC).
  2. The Hymnbook (1955) was common to the RCA, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC), the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA), and the United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA).  The PCUSA and the UPCNA merged in 1958 to create the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA), which joined with the PCUS in 1983 to form the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PC(USA)].  The RCA and the ARPC remain separate, however.
  3. Between 1955 and 1983 came The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972), common to the PCUS, the UPCUSA, and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC).  The PC(USA), successor to the PCUS and the UPCUSA, cooperates with the CPC, sharing a Book of Common Worship.
  4. The OPC and the PCA published the revised Trinity Hymnal in 1990, after two failed attempts at organic union–one in 1982 and the other four years later.

So I wonder about the future of relationships involving the RCA, the CRCNA, the URCNA and the OPC, especially in the context of the sharing of hymnals.  Will the RCA and the CRCNA ever come to the point of formal reunion?  Will the URCNA find at least one more partner for organic union?  Only time will tell, and I will watch from the sidelines, in the See of Canterbury.

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IV.  CONCLUSION

This long post is about coming together while remaining mostly separate and addressing societal-theological issues.  My research reveals that sometimes, as in the RCA and the CRCNA, there is at least as much disunity within a denomination as there is between them.  This proves especially true regarding matters of theology and worship.  And sometimes, as deceptive as a shared denominational label can prove to be regarding actual ecclesiastical unity, the existence of denominational separateness can mask a greater, underlying unity.  In other words, appearances and tightly-held identities, which provide psychological comfort for many people, can prove to be deceptive.

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ADDENDUM

According to this report on the 2014 General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2018 has become the probable publication date of the proposed URCNA-OPC hymnal.

KRT–AUGUST 29, 2014 C.E.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY OF HARDCOPY SOURCES

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.

Glory to God:  The Presbyterian Hymnal.  Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 2013.

The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration.  Waco, TX:  Word Music, 1986.

The Hymnbook.  Edited by David Hugh Jones.  Richmond, VA:  John Knox Press, 1955.

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

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

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

The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America Together with the Psalter Selected and Arranged for Responsive Reading.  New York, NY:  The Board of Education of the Reformed Church in America, 1968.

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.

Praise! Our Songs and Hymns.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Singspiration Music, 1979.

The Presbyterian Hymnal:  Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Songs.  Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990.

Psalms for All Seasons:  A Complete Psalter for Worship.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2012.

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

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

Psalter Hymnal:  Doctrinal Standards and Liturgy of the Christian Reformed Church.  Centennial Edition.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Publication Committee of the Christian Reformed Church, 1959.

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

Sing! A New Creation.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Faith Alive Christian Resources, 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.  Philadelphia, PA:  Great Commission Publications, 1961.

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

The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns.  Philadelphia, PA:  Westminster Press, 1972.

The Worship Sourcebook.  Second Edition.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2013.

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

JULY 5, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY ZACCARIA, FOUNDER OF THE BARNABITES AND THE ANGELIC SISTERS OF SAINT PAUL

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ADALBERO AND ULRIC OF AUGSBURG, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

THE FEAST OF H. RICHARD NIEBUHR, UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF WILLEM A. VISSER ‘T HOOFT, ECUMENIST

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Posted July 5, 2014 by neatnik2009 in Amos, Amos 5, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Genesis 1, John 17, Luke 6, Moravian (General), 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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“Lead Me, Guide Me”: The Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America, 1970-2000   17 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 Media, 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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My Favorite Hymn   5 comments

I Bind Unto Myself Today

Above:  The First Two Pages of “I Bind Unto Myself Today” from The Hymnal (1918)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

You might have a favorite hymn, O reader.  I have one:  “I Bind Unto Myself Today,” with original words attributed to St. Patrick (372-466) and the English translation by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895), wife of the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh.  I recall growing up in rural United Methodist congregations in southern Georgia, U.S.A.  Some of these churches considered gospel songs from the 1920s old.  How about a text which goes back the 400s in its original language?  Yes, I have a fine sense of history.  “I Bind Unto Myself Today” spans seven verses and four pages in the Episcopal Hymnal (1918) and seven verses and three pages in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982.  One of the better choices the recent hymnal committee for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) made was to include this hymn (in six verses on three pages) in Glory to God:  The Presbyterian Hymnal (2013).

Presbyterian

Above:  The First Page of “I Bind Unto Myself Today” from Glory to God:  The Presbyterian Hymnal (2013)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

The hymn appeals to my preference for wordy, theologically dense texts, as opposed to spirituals and “seven-eleven” songs with few, frequently repeated words.  I could nitpick the text, but why?

I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity,

by invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three.

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I bind this day to me for ever,

by power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;

his baptism in the Jordan river;

his death on cross for my salvation;

his bursting from the spiced tomb;

his riding up the heavenly way;

his coming at the day of doom:

I bind unto myself today.

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I bind unto myself the power

of the great love of cherubim;

the sweet “Well done” in judgment hour;

the service of the seraphim;

confessors’ faith, apostles’ word,

the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophet’s scrolls;

all good deeds done unto the Lord,

and purity of virgin souls.

+++++

I bind unto myself today

the virtues of the starlit heaven,

the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,

the whiteness of the moon at even,

the flashing of the lightning free,

the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,

the stable earth, the deep salt sea,

around the old eternal rocks.

+++++

I bind unto myself today

the power of God to hold and lead,

his eye to watch, his might to stay,

his ear to hearken to my need;

the wisdom of my God to teach,

his hand to guide, his shield to ward;

the word of God to give me speech,

his heavenly host to be my guard.

+++++

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

+++++

I bind unto myself the Name,

the strong Name of the Trinity,

by invocation of the same,

the Three in One, and One in Three.

Of whom all nature hath creation,

eternal Father, Spirit, Word:

praise to the Lord of my salvation,

salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Is the hymn not glorious?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 15, 2014 COMMON ERA

TRINITY SUNDAY, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF JOHN ELLERTON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF EVELYN UNDERHILL, ANGLICAN MYSTIC

THE FEAST OF SAINT LANDELINUS OF VAUX, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; SAINT AUBERT OF CAMBRAI, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT URSMAR OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND MISSIONARY BISHOP; AND SAINTS DOMITIAN, HADELIN, AND DODO OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS

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