Archive for the ‘United Methodist Church’ 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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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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The Doddridge Count   41 comments

Doddridge 1905

Above:  Philip Doddridge’s Entry from the Author Index in The Methodist Hymnal (1905)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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Philip Doddridge (1702-1751) was among the giants of English hymnody.  He wrote more than 400 hymns, usually at the rate of one a week.  Reading about the decline of the inclusion of his texts in U.S. Methodist hymnody has prompted me to think about the broadening of worship resources as denominations become more multicultural in official resources.  This broadening is neither entirely good nor bad, but I remain mostly a European classicist without any apology.

My research method has been simple:

  1. I have consulted all germane hymnals (of which I have hardcopies; electronic copies do not count for now) in my library.  Supplements issued between official hardcover hymnals do not count, but post-Vatican II Roman Catholic hymnals do.
  2. I have not listed hymnals which lack an index of authors unless I have a companion volume to it with such an index included.  Thus this survey does not include many hymnals from the 1800s and 1900s.

The grand champion in this survey is The Methodist Hymnal (Methodist Episcopal Church and Methodist Episcopal Church, South; 1905), with twenty-two (22) Doddridge hymns.  The other members of the two-digit club follow:

  1. The Hymnal (Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 1895)–15;
  2. The Hymnal (Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 1911)–13; the same count in the edition with the Supplement of 1917;
  3. The Evangelical Hymnal (The Evangelical Church, 1921-1946, and its predecessors, 1921)–12;
  4. Hymnal and Liturgies of the Moravian Church (Unitas Fratrum) (Moravian Church in America, 1923)–12;
  5. The Church Hymnal (Church of the United Brethren in Christ, 1935)–11;
  6. Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1961)–11; and
  7. Trinity Hymnal–Baptist Edition (Reformed Baptist, 1995)–10.

Each of the following hymnals contains nine Doddridge hymns:

  1. The Pilgrim Hymnal (Congregationalist, 1912);
  2. The Church Hymnary (British, Australian, New Zealand, and South African Presbyterian, 1927); and
  3. The Hymnary of The United Church of Canada (1930);

Each of the following hymnals contains eight Doddridge hymns:

  1. The Pilgrim Hymnal (Congregationalist, 1904);
  2. The Methodist Hymnal (Methodist Episcopal Church; Methodist Episcopal Church, South; and Methodist Protestant Church; 1935; then The Methodist Church, 1939 forward); and
  3. Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America, 1985).

Each of the following hymnals contains seven Doddridge hymns:

  1. New Baptist Hymnal (Northern Baptist Convention and Southern Baptist Convention, 1926);
  2. The Methodist Hymnal/The Book of Hymns (The Methodist Church, 1966, then The United Methodist Church, 1968 forward);
  3. The Hymnal 1982 (The Episcopal Church, 1985); and
  4. Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Presbyterian Church in America, 1990)

The Lutheran Hymnal (Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America, 1941) contains six Doddridge hymns.

Each of the following hymnals contains five Doddridge hymns:

  1. Common Service Book of the Lutheran Church (United Lutheran Church in America, 1918-1962, and its predecessors, 1917);
  2. The Hymnal (The Episcopal Church, 1940); same count after the Supplements of 1961 and 1976;
  3. The Hymnal of the Evangelical Mission Covenant Church of America (1950);
  4. The Hymnbook (Presbyterian Church in the United States, Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., United Presbyterian Church of North America, Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and Reformed Church in America, 1955);
  5. Hymnal and Liturgies of the Moravian Church (Moravian Church in America, 1969);
  6. The Hymnbook of the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada (1971);
  7. Hymns for the Living Church (1974); and
  8. Praise! Our Songs and Hymns (1979).

Each of the following hymnals contains four Doddridge hymns:

  1. The English Hymnal (The Church of England, 1906)
  2. The Hymnal (Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 1933);
  3. Pilgrim Hymnal (Congregationalist/Congregational Christian, 1931/1935);
  4. Christian Worship:  A Hymnal (Northern Baptist Convention and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 1941);
  5. Hymns of the Living Faith (Free Methodist Church of North America and Wesleyan Methodist Church of America, 1951);
  6. The Hymnal of the Evangelical United Brethren Church (1957);
  7. Pilgrim Hymnal (Congregational Christian/United Church of Christ, 1958);
  8. The Covenant Hymnal (Evangelical Covenant Church of America, 1973);
  9. Hymns of Faith and Life (Free Methodist Church and Wesleyan Church, 1976);
  10. Praise the Lord (Churches of Christ, 1992), and
  11. Christian Worship:  A Lutheran Hymnal (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, 1993).

Each of the following hymnals contains three Doddridge hymns:

  1. The Church Hymnary–Third Edition (Scottish Presbyterian, 1973);
  2. The Hymnal (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1941);
  3. The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Presbyterian Church in the United States, and Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1972);
  4. Lutheran Worship (The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, 1982); and
  5. Common Praise (Anglican Church of Canada, 1998).

Each of the following hymnals contains two Doddridge hymns:

  1. The Service Hymnal (Non-denominational Evangelical, 1950);
  2. Armed Forces Hymnal (United States Armed Forces Chaplains Board, 1958);
  3. Hymns of Grace (Primitive Baptist, 1967);
  4. Book of Worship for United States Forces (1974);
  5. The Hymnal of the United Church of Christ (1974);
  6. Hymns for the Family of God (Non-denominational Evangelical, 1976);
  7. Hymns of the Spirit for Use in the Free Churches of America (American Unitarian Association and Universalist Church of America, 1937);
  8. Lutheran Book of Worship (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 1987-, and its predecessors, 1978);
  9. Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1985);
  10. Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal (1985);
  11. The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration (Non-denominational Evangelical, 1986);
  12. The Presbyterian Hymnal:  Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Songs (Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 1990); and
  13. Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (Evangelical Lutheran Synod, 1996);

Each of the following hymnals contains one Doddridge hymn:

  1. Christian Youth Hymnal (United Lutheran Church in America, 1948)
  2. Hymns for the Celebration of Life (Unitarian Universalist Association, 1964);
  3. Hymnbook for Christian Worship (American Baptist Convention and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 1970);
  4. Baptist Hymnal (Southern Baptist Convention, 1975);
  5. Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church in North America, 1987);
  6. Worship His Majesty (Non-denominational Evangelical, 1987);
  7. The United Methodist Hymnal:  Book of United Methodist Worship (1989);
  8. The Baptist Hymnal (Southern Baptist Convention, 1991);
  9. Sing to the Lord (Church of the Nazarene, 1993);
  10. Ambassador Hymnal for Lutheran Worship (Association of Free Lutheran Congregations, 1994);
  11. The New Century Hymnal (United Church of Christ, 1995);
  12. The Covenant Hymnal:  A Worshipbook (Evangelical Covenant Church of America, 1996);
  13. The Celebration Hymnal:  Songs and Hymns for Worship (Non-Denominational Evangelical, 1997);
  14. Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 2006);
  15. Lutheran Service Book (The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, 2006);
  16. Baptist Hymnal (Southern Baptist Convention, 2008);
  17. Celebrating Grace Hymnal (Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, 2010); and
  18. Lift Up Your Hearts (Reformed Church in America and Christian Reformed Church in North America, 2013).

And each of the following hymnals contains no Doddridge hymns:

  1. The Psalter (United Presbyterian Church of North America, 1912);
  2. The Psalter (Christian Reformed Church in North America, 1914/1927);
  3. The Concordia Hymnal:  A Hymnal for Church, School and Home (Norwegian Lutheran Church in America, 1932);
  4. Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church in North America, 1934);
  5. Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church in North America, 1959);
  6. Worship II (Roman Catholic Church, 1975);
  7. Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church in North America, 1976);
  8. Worship:  A Hymnal and Service Book for Roman Catholics, Third Edition, a.k.a. Worship III (1986);
  9. Singing the Living Tradition (Unitarian Universalist Association, 1993);
  10. Gather Comprehensive (Roman Catholic Church, 1994);
  11. Chalice Hymnal (Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 1995);
  12. Moravian Book of Worship (Moravian Church in America, 1995);
  13. RitualSong (Roman Catholic Church, 1996);
  14. The Service Hymnal:  A Lutheran Homecoming (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, unofficial, 2001);
  15. Gather Comprehensive–Second Edition (Roman Catholic Church, 2004); and
  16. Glory to God:  The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2013).

The chronological arrangement of this information reveals that the Doddridge counts began to drop noticeably and consistently in the 1930s and that the pace of decline quickened in the 1950s and 1960s then again in the 1990s and later.

I understand that there is a finite number of hymns one can include in a hymnal.  When one adds a song of more recent vintage and/or from elsewhere in the world, another text–one which has fallen out of use–will probably fall by the wayside during the process of hymnal revision.  Sometimes new material is of great quality; I have shared some well-written contemporary hymns during hymn-planning sessions at church and gotten them to the choir.  But sometimes new content is of lesser quality; repetitive “seven-eleven” songs with few words have become more numerous in hymnals across the theological spectrum.  Whenever those displace quality texts, such as Philip Doddridge hymns, something unfortunate has occurred.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 8, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPHINE BAKHITA, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN OF MALTA AND FELIX OF VALOIS, FOUNDERS OF THE ORDER OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY

THE FEAST OF SAINT JEROME EMILIANI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF WINFIELD SCOTT HANCOCK, U.S. ARMY GENERAL

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Amended February 14, 2014 Common Era

Amended March 28, 2014 Common Era

Amended May 16, 2014 Common Era

Amended September 17, 2014 Common Era

Amended October 1, 2014 Common Era

Amended October 2, 2014 Common Era

Amended June 4, 2015 Common Era

Amended August 24, 2015 Common Era

Amended December 29, 2015 Common Era

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Posted February 8, 2014 by neatnik2009 in Anabaptist and Baptist (General), Anglican and Lutheran (General), Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Predecessors, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Predecessors' Offshoots, Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod Predecessors, 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, United Church of Christ Predecessors, United Methodist Church, United Methodist Church Predecessors, Wesleyan (General), Worship and Liturgy

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Greater Dignity and Depth in Worship   9 comments

Hymnal 1941 Title Page

Above:  Part of the Title Page of The Hymnal (1941), of the Evangelical and Reformed Church

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Book from the Library of Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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I like old hymnals.  In fact, I find them infinitely more interesting than contemporary ones.  Please do not misunderstand me, O reader; I am not a reactionary with regard to hymnody.  I do not assume that there has not been a good hymn or hymnal to come down the pike since an arbitrary year.  I am unlike a certain man who told me years ago that nobody had written good church music after 1900.  Rather, I am like the archaeologist of a joke I heard once; the older his wife became, the more interesting he found her.  In this case, the principle applies to hymnals.

Hymnals are like toys to me; they fascinate me, so I “play” with them.  Yesterday I received my copy of The Hymnal (1941), of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, a forerunner of the United Church of Christ.  The Hymnal (1941), like many other books of its sort from that era, is like a stately vessel, for it hails from a time before theologically shallow and extremely annoying praise choruses.  Nobody had thought of praise bands yet, mercifully.  The opening paragraph of the Preface is wonderful:

Christianity is constantly finding better forms of religious expression.  Symbolism, architecture, and ritual are leading the way to finer sanctuaries and more impressive worship services.  A positive theology is asserting itself anew and is greatly influencing religious thinking, thus paving the way for a revival of spiritual living.  Religious realism claims a place in the program of the Church and in the life of believers as a means of interpreting satisfactorily for modern man the social phenomena of an awakened world conscience.  Out of all this grows a demand for greater unity and strength, and greater dignity and depth in worship, the influence of which becomes apparent in the hymns we sing.  THE HYMNAL takes cognizance of this demand.

–page iii

New Forms of Worship (1971)

Above:  The Cover of New Forms of Worship (1971), by James F. White

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Book from the Library of Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Unfortunately, the period from the middle 1960s through the middle 1970s took a negative toll on hymnody and the language of worship.  The proper transition to addressing God as “you” instead of “Thee” was often an awkward one, with a few years required to sort out the proper tone of new liturgies.  The intersecting roads which led to The Book of Common Prayer (1979) and the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) found the proper balance before they arrived at their destinations, fortunately.  Yet, as volumes from my large collection of hymnals, service books, and books about worship attest, some such books from the middle 1960s to the middle 1970s, both mainline and Evangelical, represent what I call, in mock 1950s B-movies style,

THE ATTACK OF THE 1970S.

Examples include The Worshipbook (Presbyterian, 1970/1972), The Hymnbook of the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada (1971), Hymns for the Family of God (non-denominational, Gaither-influenced, 1976), Hymns for the Living Church (non-denominational, 1974), The Hymnal of the United Church of Christ (1974), and a number of immediately post-Vatican II Roman Catholic resources.  This was the time of The Living Bible (1971), in which Jesus says,

I am the A and the Z….

–Revelation 22:13a

The infiltration of shallow church music continues, unfortunately.  Lift Up Your Hearts (2013), the new hymnal of the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church, is more about the heart than the head and leans toward contemporary music.  Glory to God:  The Presbyterian Hymnal (2013), of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), contains some praise music, but at least the book leans toward a traditional hymnody.  The United Methodist Hymnal (1989) is of a decidedly Low Church mold, unlike its immediate predecessor, The Methodist Hymnal/The Book of Hymns (1966), which tried to raise the bar, only to become unpopular in many corners of the denomination.  The 1989 book does, unfortunately, contain “seven-eleven” songs, with about seven words one sings eleven times, as the saying goes.  And, ironically, the official Baptist Hymnal (2008), of the Southern Baptist Convention, contains a less traditional hymnody, including more praise music, than the Celebrating Grace Hymnal (2010), of the Cooperative Baptists.  And I have yet to analyze certain contemporary non-denominational hymnals, which I have seen yet not studied for hours on end.  What I have seen, however, has troubled me, given the emphasis upon the informal, the repetitive, and the contemporary.

I have been reading so much about so many hymnals recently that I have forgotten where I read certain comments.  In one of these online places I read a cogent analysis of many contemporary hymnals:  they are more about the worshipers than the one whom the people worship.  I appreciate worship done well.  It elevates the human spirit.  It ought never to become entertainment.  Worship done well creates an atmosphere all about God and differs stylistically from the rest of one’s life, unless one lives in a cloister or a similar setting.  Churches should look like churches.  Hymn texts should be profound and wordy.  Worship should be dignified.  And Eucharist should be the frequent and central act of Christian worship.

Here I stand; I will do no other.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 10, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE TENTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN ROBERTS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF HOWELL ELVET LEWIS, WELSH CONGREGATIONALIST CLERGYMAN AND POET

THE FEAST OF KARL BARTH, SWISS REFORMED THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF THOMAS MERTON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MONK

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http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/why-i-like-old-hymnals-and-hymns/

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All This I Steadfastly Believe: Baptismal Vows in Rites of The United Methodist Church and Predecessor Denominations, 1901-1992   6 comments

017380pv

Above:  Community Methodist Church, Half Moon Bay, California

Image Created by the Historic American Buildings Survey

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ca0808.photos.017380p/)

Reproduction Number = HABS CAL,41-HAMOB,1–7

The Congregation’s Website:  http://cumc-hmb.org/

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All this I steadfastly believe.

The Methodist Hymnal:  Official Hymnal of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (1905), page 87

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I.  MY PURPOSE

My purpose in this blog post is to write about baptismal vows in rituals of The United Methodist Church (UMC) and its predecessor bodies since circa 1901.  The UMC is the product of the union of two denominations, each of which was the result of other mergers.  UM roots in the United States sink back into the soil of the past as deeply as the 1700s.

This post and the immediately preceding one (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/solemn-promises-baptismal-vows-in-rites-of-the-presbyterian-church-u-s-a-and-predecessor-bodies-1906-1993/) are spin-offs from a post (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/and-all-his-works-u-s-lutheran-baptismal-vows-1917-2006/) about U.S. Lutheran baptismal vows from 1917 to 2006.  Yes, I am a liturgy geek.  Where is my Prayer Book pocket protector?

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II.  THE METHODIST PROTESTANT CHURCH HYMNAL (1901)

The Methodist Protestant Church Hymnal (1901) (http://archive.org/details/protest00meth) is an excellent, if arbitrary place to start.  My explorations at http://archive.org/ have yet to reveal a ritual for that denomination in a book prior to 1901.

In the ritual for the baptism of a child, the minister reminds the parents/guardians to

guide its feet in the paths of righteousness, and raise it up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

The parents/guardians promise to

by precept and example, to bring up this child [or these children] in the nurture and admonition of the Lord

and to pray earnestly

to God for the assistance of the Holy Spirit

in accomplishing this goal.

Those baptismal candidates able to speak for themselves affirm that they

believe in the existence of God, and that he is a rewarder of all those who diligently seek him,

that

the Lord Jesus Christ is the redeemer and Saviour of the world,

affirm that they are

now determined to forsake every evil way, to look to Christ as your only and and all-sufficient Saviour, and to walk in all the commandments of God

and vow to

endeavor to be faithful in the discharge

of certain duties:

to search the Holy Scriptures, and to attend on all the ordinances of the house of God.

Probationary members received into the church ratify the baptismal covenants others made for them, affirm the the resurrection of Jesus, repent of their sins, and affirm that they

rely only upon the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ

for salvation and that they intend

to obey him

as their

Prince and to conform

their lives

to his teaching and example.

They also promise to attend church services,

co-operate with the pastor and members, and contribute

as able

to the religious enterprises of the church.

Full members received into the church agree to

all its rules of government; to contribute

as able

for the support of the gospel ministry of and the benevolent enterprises of the church; to seek earnestly its peace and purity; to walk with all its members in meekness and sobriety.

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III.  THE METHODIST HYMNAL (1905)

The Methodist Episcopal Church (1784-1939) and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (1845-1939), separated because of a controversy over chattel slavery–a fact which does not place the Southern Church in a favorable historical or moral light.  The two denominations were, however, on sufficiently friendly terms as to produce a shared hymn book, The Methodist Hymnal (1905) (http://archive.org/details/methodisthymnalo00meth).

I have provided a hyperlink to an electronic file, although I worked from a physical copy in delicate condition.

The minister reminds the parents/guardians of their duties:

Dearly Beloved, forasmuch as this child is now presented by you for Christian Baptism, you must remember that it is your part and duty to see that he be taught, as soon as he shall be able to learn, the nature and end of this Holy Sacrament.  And that he may know these things the better, you shall call upon the appointed means of grace, such as the ministry of the word, and the public and private worship of God; and further, you shall provide that he shall read the Holy Scriptures, and learn the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, the Catechism, and all other things which a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul’s health, in order that he may be brought up to lead a virtuous and holy life, remembering always that Baptism doth represent unto us that inward purity which disposeth us to follow the example of our Saviour Christ; that as he died and rose again for us, so should we, who are baptized, die unto sin and rise again unto righteousness, continually mortifying all corrupt affections, and daily proceeding in all virtue and godliness.

They

therefore solemnly engage to fulfill these duties, so far as is in

them

lies, the Lord being

their helper.

Those who can speak for themselves

renounce the devil and all this works, the vain pomp and glory of the glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the carnal desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow nor be led by them.

That language comes verbatim from The Book of Common Prayer (1662).

Then the baptismal candidates affirm the Apostles’ Creed and vow to

obediently keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of thy life.

Those who join the church affirm that they desire to be saved from their sins, that they endeavor to guard themselves

against all things contrary to the teaching of God’s word

and

to lead a holy life, following the commandments of God,

and are determined to

give reverent attendance upon the appointed means of grace in the ministry of the word, and the private and public worship of God.

That is one form of Reception of Members.  In the other rite the new member renews his or her baptismal covenant, states that he or she trusts he or she has

saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,

affirms the doctrinal statements of the Methodist Episcopal Church,

cheerfully to be governed by the Rules of the Methodist Episcopal Church, hold sacred ordinances of God, and endeavor,

as able,

to promote the welfare

of the brethren

and the advancement of the Redeemer’s kingdom.

Then the new member promises to contribute, as able, of his or her

earthly sustenance

for the purpose of supporting

the Gospel and the various benevolent enterprises of the Church.

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IV.  THE METHODIST HYMNAL (1935) AND THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1945)

The Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Protestant Church, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South reunited in 1939 to create The Methodist Church.  First, however, they produced a common hymn book, The Methodist Hymnal (1935).  Ten years later the merged denomination published its Book of Worship for Church and Home (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/the-book-of-worship-for-church-and-home-1945/), the first volume of its kind in U.S. Methodism since John Wesley’s failed Sunday Service.

Much of the 1935-1945 baptismal ritual content looks familiar, for its primary foundation seems to be the Ritual from the 1905 Hymnal.  So I focus on elements which differ from that.

Children and youth answering for themselves vow to put away from themselves

every known sin, of thought, word, or deed, and accept and confess Jesus Christ

as Savior and Lord, to

diligently study the Bible as God’s Holy Word, and in all things to make it the rule

of life, and to

faithfully endeavor to live so as to be pleasing unto Him.

Adults baptized repent of their sins, confess Jesus as Saviour and Lord, and

earnestly endeavor to keep God’s Holy Will and commandments.

New members renew their baptismal covenants, confess Jesus as Saviour and Lord,

pledge allegiance to His kingdom,

receive

and profess the Christian faith as contained in the New Testament of our Lord Jesus Christ,

and swear loyalty to the denomination, vowing to

uphold it

by their prayers, presence, gifts, and service.

Children and youth who join the the church affirm belief in God as their Heavenly Father, accept Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour, state their belief

in the Bible as God’s Holy Word,

and swear loyalty to the denomination, vowing to

uphold it

with their prayers, presence, gifts, and service.

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V.  THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965) AND THE METHODIST HYMNAL (1966)

The Methodist Church (1939-1968) published its hymnal and book of worship (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/the-book-of-worship-for-church-and-home-1965/), complete with revised rites of Christian initiation with echoes of and quotes from older forms.

The minister asks the parents/guardians if they accept their

bounden duty and privilege to live before this child a life that becomes the Gospel; to exercise all godly care that he be brought up in the Christian faith, that he be taught the Holy Scriptures, and that he learn to give reverent attendance upon the private and public worship of God

and to

endeavor to keep this child under the ministry and guidance of the Church until he by the power of God shall accept for himself the gift of salvation, and be confirmed as a full and responsible member of Christ’s holy Church.

Youth and adults repent of their sins, accept Jesus as Savior, and affirm belief in

God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord; and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life

before vowing to

obediently keep God’s holy will and commandments and walk in the same

all the days of their lives.

Those who join the church renew their baptismal covenant, confess Jesus Christ as Savior and pledge

allegiance to his kingdom

affirm that they

receive and profess the Christian faith as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments,

and promise

according to the grace given

them to

live a Christian life and always remain a faithful member of Christ’s holy Church.

They also promise, as in the 1935 rites, swear to be loyal to the denomination, and to uphold it with prayers, presence, gifts, and service.

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VI.  THE UNITED EVANGELICAL CHURCH, 1894-1922

The Evangelical United Brethren Church (1946-1968) (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/rituals-of-the-evangelical-united-brethren-church-1946-1968/) united with The Methodist Church (1939-1968) to form The United Methodist Church.  The Evangelical United Brethren Church was the union of the Evangelical Church and the Church of the United Brethren in Christ.  The Evangelical Church was the reunion of the Evangelical Association and its offshoot, the United Evangelical Church.

My searches, including those at http://archive.org/, have not turned up any Evangelical Association ritual.  I have sought yet not found.  But I have located a copy of the ritual (ratified in 1894), of the United Evangelical Church in its Discipline (http://archive.org/details/doctrinesdiscipl00unit).

The minister reminds the parents/guardians of their duties to teach him or her

early fear of the Lord; to watch over

his or her education that he or she

be not led astray; to direct

his or her youthful mind to the Holy Scriptures, and his or her

feet to the house of God; to restrain from evil association and habits,

and, as able, to bring him or her

up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

The parents/guardians agree to do this.

Adult baptismal candidates affirm the Apostles’ Creed and, in the words of the 1662 Prayer Book and the Methodist Ritual,

renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world….

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VII.  THE CHURCH OF THE UNITED BRETHREN IN CHRIST

I have confirmed the existence of a consistent ritual of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ since at least its 1897 Discipline (http://archive.org/details/origindoctrineco1897unit).

The minister, in language almost identical to that quoted in the previous section, reminds the parents of their duties.

Baptismal candidates able to speak for themselves consecrate themselves

to Christ and his service

and vow to

endeavor henceforth to keep God’s holy commandments and to walk in the same

all the days of their lives, a passage which the 1965 Methodist rite echoes.

New members swear that they

believe the Bible to be the Word of God, and that therein only is revealed the way of salvation,

take

this Word

as the

rule of faith and conduct,

affirm belief

that Jesus Christ is the Son of God,

and as their

personal Savior,

state their determination

by the grace of God to follow Christ, renouncing the world and all ungodliness, seeking to lead a life of holiness and devotion to God and his cause,

affirm their willingness

to be governed by our church rules as laid down in the Discipline,

and to

attend the various means of grace and the services of the church whenever practicable,

vow to

prayerfully study to know

their duty

as a Christian steward,

and to contribute

to the support of the local church and the benevolent interests of the church

as God enables them to do so.

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VIII.  THE EVANGELICAL UNITED BRETHREN CHURCH, 1946-1968

The Evangelical United Brethren Church published the Book of Ritual, a separately bound portion of its Discipline, in 1952, 1955, and 1959, each time with slight revisions, but not in the baptismal rites.

The minister instructs the parents (chiefly via the Apostles’ Creed) of their duties, which are to

set before this child the example of a godly life, instruct him in the elements of the Christian faith, seek to lead him to acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior, nurture him in the Christian life, and endeavor to bring him into the membership of the church.

The parents vow to do these things.

The minister, addressing baptismal candidates able to speak for themselves, recites the Apostles’ Creed then asks them to

acknowledge and profess the Christian faith as taught in the Holy Scriptures,

to

repent from sin,

and acknowledge Jesus as Savior and Lord, and to be

determined by the grace of God to live the Christian life.

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IX.  THE UNITED METHODIST HYMNAL (1989) AND THE UNITED METHODIST BOOK OF WORSHIP (1992)

The United Methodist Church has four Services of the Baptismal Covenant in its hymnal and book of worship (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/the-united-methodist-book-of-worship-1992/):

  • I is for Holy Baptism, Confirmation, Reaffirmation of Faith, and Reception of Members.
  • II is Baptism of Children, based on the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren rites.  The Book of Worship, unlike the Hymnal, divides this into II, II-A (the Brief Order), and II-B.
  • III is Baptism of Adults, based on the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren rites.
  • IV is for Congregational Reaffirmation.

There is little left to write which is different except that, having read the preceding rites in the last few hours, these look very familiar relative to the older rites.  I note that the first three questions and answers are very good and indicate a social conscience and a sound theology of the Image of God:

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?

I do.

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

I do.

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

I do.

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X.  CONCLUSION

As I wrote in the corresponding Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) baptismal vows post,

There is no single correct way to cover the serious theological work of baptismal vows.

The denominations of which I have written in this post have done that job well and in a variety of ways.  Such variety is the spice of liturgical life.

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KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 30, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIAM PINCHON, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF HORATIUS BONAR, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF RUDOLF BULTMANN, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM WILBERFORCE, ABOLITIONIST

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

First I acknowledge my brain, given the years I grew up in United Methodist parsonages and have spent studying U.S. Methodist history.  Citing my brain is quicker and easier than seeking print sources for certain details.

I consider any document to which I have provided a hyperlink cited properly already.

I also used certain books while drafting this post.  Those credits follow:

Book of Common Prayer, The.  The Church of England, 1662.

Book of Ritual of The Evangelical United Brethren Church, The.  Dayton, OH:  Otterbein Press, 1952.

Book of Ritual of The Evangelical United Brethren Church, The.  Dayton, OH:  Otterbein Press, 1955.

Book of Ritual of The Evangelical United Brethren Church, The.  Dayton, OH:  Otterbein Press, 1959.

Book of Worship for Church and Home, The.  Nashville, TN:  Methodist Publishing House, 1945.

Book of Worship for Church and Home, The.  Nashville, TN:  Methodist Publishing House, 1965.

Church Hymnal:  The Official Hymnal of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, The.  Dayton, OH:  United Brethren Publishing House, 1935.  Reprint, 1943.

Methodist Hymnal:  Official Hymnal of The Methodist Church, The.  Nashville, TN:  Methodist Publishing House, 1935, 1939.

Methodist Hymnal:  Official Hymnal of The Methodist Church, The.  Nashville, TN:  Methodist Publishing House, 1966.

Methodist Hymnal:  Official Hymnal of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, The.  New York, NY:  Eaton & Mains, 1905.

United Methodist Book of Worship, The.  Nashville, TN:  United Methodist Publishing House, 1992.

United Methodist Hymnal:  Book of United Methodist Worship, The.  Nashville, TN:  United Methodist Publishing House, 1989.

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You Are Indeed Holy, O God, the Fountain of All Holiness: With One Voice (1995) and Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006)   4 comments

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006)

Above:  My Copies of With One Voice (1995), and Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), July 22, 2013

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U.S. LUTHERAN LITURGY, PART XIX

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You are indeed holy, O God,

the fountain of all holiness;

you bring light from darkness,

life from death,

speech from silence.

With One Voice:  A Lutheran Resource for Worship (1995), page 23

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I.  TECHNICAL NOTICE

Last year I wrote a comparative review of the Lutheran Service Book and Evangelical Lutheran Worship (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/evangelical-lutheran-worship-2006-and-lutheran-service-book-2006-services/).  That review stands, with this post complementing it.  Also, this post is part of a series, thus it builds on information from previous posts, a guide to which I provide here:  https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/guide-to-posts-about-lutheran-worship/.

Also, my copy of Evangelical Lutheran Worship is the Pew Edition, not the altar book.

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II.  BACKGROUND

Just as there was great demand with The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) for the Lutheran Service Book (LSB) (2006), there was equivalent demand for a successor to the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  The standard lifespan of a hymnal in most U.S. denominations is about twenty to thirty years, usually closer to twenty to twenty-five years.  Off the top of my head I recall the dates, for example, of Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA) hymnals (1874-1895-1911-1933-1955), Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) hymnals (1901-1927-1955-1972), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) hymnals (1990 and 2013), and U.S. Methodist hymnals (1905-1935-1966-1989 in one stream and 1901-1935-1966-1989 in another stream).  (There are other streams.)  Thus, in 2006, the LBW was twenty-eight years old–arguably time for a change.  The ELCA had been using a provisional book, With One Voice (WOV) (1995), beside the LBW for eleven years before Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) debuted.  The former influenced the latter.

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III.  COMMUNION RITUALS AND SERVICES OF THE WORD

ELW offers ten settings of the Holy Communion.  These are adapted from the LBW and WOV.  The altered form of the Common Service from the LBW is the basis for some of the ten settings, which feature different styles of music.  Most of the settings, however, are variations on Settings 4 and 5 from WOV.  These are not Common Service forms.

ELW, like WOV and the LBW, contains a non-Eucharistic service–Service of the Word in ELW and the LBW and the Service of Word and Prayer in WOV.  These are nice-enough rites, I suppose, but the Holy Eucharist is supposed to be the central act of Christian worship–one which many leading Protestant Reformers of the 1500s encouraged people to take as often as possible–every Sunday, even.  The Holy Eucharist has constituted the core of my spiritual life since my childhood.  But since frequent–especially weekly–Eucharistic celebration is not a defining characteristic of The United Methodist Church, I chose to convert and become an Episcopalian.

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IV.  THE CALENDAR, PSALTER, LECTIONARIES, AND DAILY PRAYER SERVICES

ELW, like the LSB, has an extensive Calendar.  The  2006 Calendar of Saints is more impressive than its 1978 predecessor.  Now such luminaries as Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman (March 10), Julian of Norwich (May 8), St. Antony of Egypt (January 17), and Oscar Romero (March 24) are present.  Unfortunately, so is Jonathan Edwards (March 22).

There are four Daily Prayer services:

  1. Morning Prayer (Matins);
  2. Evening Prayer (Vespers);
  3. Night Prayer (Compline); and
  4. Responsive Prayer (Suffrages).

All are very good.  The first three are familiar pars of the Prayer Book usage I have adopted, and the first two have been part of the Common Service from its beginning (1888).

ELW offers two lectionaries:

  1. the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL),
  2. and a three-year daily lectionary built around it.

I am a fan of the Revised Common Lectionary.  My denomination and congregation follow it.  I have written three-years’ worth of devotions based on it.  And I am learning to adore the second lectionary as I write devotions based on it.

The lectionaries tie into the Psalter.  ELW breaks with U.S. Lutheran tradition by providing a complete Psalter in the Pew Edition.  The translation is a variation on that from The Book of Common Prayer (1979).  (The LBW uses the 1979 Prayer Book Psalter verbatim.)  A brief comparison of one verse (Psalm 1:2) from the 1978 and 2006 books reveals differences and similarities.  The LBW says:

Their delight is

in the law of the LORD,

and they meditate on his law

day and night.

ELW says:

Their delight is

in the law of the LORD,

and they mediate

on God’s teaching

day and night.

That is a minor difference, one which I accept and embrace.  Besides, God exists beyond human genders.  Our language for God is all metaphorical, is it not?  May we see through the metaphors–use them as icons–not see them instead of God–treat them as idols.

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V.  ASH WEDNESDAY AND HOLY WEEK

The Pew Edition of ELW, unlike that of the LBW, contains services for Ash Wednesday and Holy Week.  The LBW Ministers Edition services for these occasions are the bases of the corresponding ELW rites, which are partial in the Pew Edition.  The altar book of ELW contains the full ritual of the church, of course, but is good to have the congregational parts of these rites in the pews.

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VI.  OTHER MATERIAL

There is much excellent content in the ELW (as there also in the LSB) which categories I have used so far do not contain.  The ELW Collects are expanded and revised from those in the LBW, for example.  I know this because I am using the 2006 Collects as I write devotions based on the new ELCA Daily Lectionary.

There are also healing, funeral, and marriage rites.

Other occasional services and rites appear in two volumes:

  1. Evangelical Lutheran Worship:  Pastoral Care (2008), and
  2. Evangelical Lutheran Worship:  Occasional Services for the Assembly (2009),

two more books (along with the altar book) for my wish list.  Portions of these volumes are available as free PDFs at the Worship section of the ELCA website.

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VII.  CONCLUSION

ELW is an invaluable resource in my liturgy library, second these days to The Book of Common Prayer (1979).  The liturgy portion of ELW, constituting about one-third of the book, is definitely not an afterthought added to a hymnal, as some liturgy sections of previous U.S. Lutheran service books have been.  This is a well-planned contemporary resource for worship which remains grounded in tradition without becoming mired in it.

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KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 27, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN HENRY BATEMAN, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM REED HUNTINGTON, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Evangelical Lutheran Worship.  Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Fortress, 2006.

Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship.  Lutheran Book of Worship.  Ministers Desk Edition.  Philadelphia, PA:  Board of Publication, Lutheran Church in America, 1978.

__________.  Lutheran Book of Worship.  Pew Edition.  Philadelphia, PA:  Board of Publication, Lutheran Church in America, 1978.

Lutheran Service Book.  St. Louis, MO:  Concordia Publishing House, 2006.

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

With One Voice:  A Lutheran Resource for Worship.  Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Fortress, 1995.

KRT

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He Descended: Christ’s Descent in the Apostles’ Creed   4 comments

Harrowing of Hades

Above:  The Harrowing of Hades

A Medieval Russian Orthodox Icon

Image in the Public Domain

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U.S. LUTHERAN LITURGY, PART XVII

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Christ himself died once and for all for sins, the upright doing for the sake of the guilty, to lead us to God.  In the body he was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life, and, in the spirit he went to preach to the spirits in prison.

–1 Peter 3:18-19, The New Jerusalem Bible

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…He descended into hell….

The Book of Common Worship (1946), page 47

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I.  INTRODUCTION

I take a break from focusing on specific U.S. Lutheran volumes to write about a related theological question instead.  When I grew up in The United Methodist Church, we said the Apostles’ Creed weekly.  Item #738 in The Methodist Hymnal (1966), renamed The Book of Hymns after the 1968 merger, is the Apostles’ Creed.  That version omits

He descended into Hell,

relegating it to a footnote.  Items #881 and 882 in The United Methodist Hymnal (1989) are the Apostle’s Creed–traditional and ecumenical versions.  Both follow the 1966 Hymnal‘s practice.  And both explain that “catholic” means universal, something which the editors of the 1966 Hymnal saw no need to do.  But that is a different matter and a rabbit I will not chase here.

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II.  POSSIBLE MEANINGS OF THE DESCENT

Philip H. Pfatteicher, the great Lutheran liturgical scholar, points out that the literal translation of the Latin text of that line from the Apostles’ Creed is:

He descended to the lower [world].

Furthermore, Pfatteicher writes, there are three main interpretations of what that means:

  • It emphasizes that Jesus was dead.
  • It indicates that Jesus went to battle Satan.
  • It indicates that Jesus freed the souls of the dead.

The English Language Liturgical Consultation (1988) version of the Apostles’s Creed renders that line:

he descended to the dead,

which applies to all three interpretations.

I prefer the traditional form:

He descended into hell.

This has been the standard U.S. Lutheran rendering, based on my secondary reading and opening of hymnals-service books in my liturgy library.  It remains the text in conservative U.S. Lutheran hymnals-service books and was likewise in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) line until Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), which uses the ecumenical version, with

He descended to the dead,

and places the traditional

He descended into hell

in a footnote.  But the descent is present.

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III.  MATTERS LUTHERAN AND REFORMED

Christ’s descent has been a hot potato for many Protestants over time.  Methodists have tended to avoid it, but at least Presbyterians have wrestled with it.  The Book of Common Worship (1906), of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., for example, placed

He descended into hell

inside brackets and provided an alternative text in a footnote:

He continued in the state of the dead, and under the power of death, until the third day.

The Book of Common Worship (Revised) (1932) removed the brackets but provided a different alternative text:

He continued in the state of the dead until the third day.

The Book of Common Worship (1946) said simply that Christ descended into hell, but our Lord and Savior has descended to the dead since 1970.  That is more than many Calvinists were willing to say for along time.  The Heidelberg Catechism (1562), Question 44 explains the descent into hell this way:

That in my severest tribulations I may be assured that Christ my Lord has redeemed me from hellish anxieties and torment by the unspeakable anguish, pain, and terrors which he suffered in his soul both on the cross and before.

The Book of Concord, however, affirms Christ’s descent into hell.  The Formula of Concord, Epitome IX (1577), says:

This article has also been disputed among some theologians who have subscribed to the Augsburg Confession:  When and in what manner did the Lord Christ, according to our simple Christian faith, descend to hell?  Was this done before or after His death?  Was this done before or after His death?  Did this happen only to His soul, only to the divinity, or with body and soul, spiritually or bodily?  Does this article belong to Christ’s passion or to His glorious victory and triumph?

This article, like the preceding article, cannot be grasped by the senses or by our reason.  It must be grasped through faith alone.  Therefore, it is our unanimous opinion that there should be no dispute over it.  It should be believed and taught only in the simplest way.  Teach it like Dr. Luther, of blessed memory, in his sermon at Torgau in the year 1533.  He has explained this article in a completely Christian way.  He separated all useless, unnecessary questions from it, and encouraged all godly Christians to believe with Christian simplicity.

It is enough to know that Christ descended into hell, destroyed hell for all believers, and delivered them from the power of condemnation and the jaws of hell.  We will save our questions and not curiously investigate about how this happened until the other world.  Then not only this mystery but others will be revealed that we simply believe here and cannot grasp with our blind reason.

The Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration IX (1577) affirms:

Even in the Ancient Christian teachers of the Church, as well as among some of our teachers, different explanations of the article about Christ’s descent to hell are found.  Therefore, we abide in the simplicity of our Christian faith.  Dr. Luther has pointed us to this in a sermon about Christ’s descent to hell, which he delivered in the castle at Torgau in the year 1533.  In the Creed we confess, “I believe….in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who…was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell.”  In this Confession Christ’s burial and descent to hell are distinguished as separate articles.  We simply believe that the entire person (God and man) descended into hell after the burial, conquered the devil, destroyed hell’s power, and took from the devil all his might.  We should not, however, trouble ourselves with high and difficult thoughts about how this happened.  With our reason and our five senses this article can be understood as little as the preceding one about how Christ is placed at the right hand of God’s almighty power and majesty.  We are simply to believe it and cling to the Word.  So we hold to the substance and consolation that neither hell nor the devil can take captive or injure us and all who believe in Christ.

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IV.  CONCLUSION

The descent of Christ is an important theological point, not one which any Christian should sweep under an ecclesiastical rug.  But it is also a theological point replete with mystery and ambiguity.  Self-identified orthodox Christians have, since the Patristic era, offered competing interpretations of it.  I prefer the Harrowing of Hell version, but it is sufficient for me that a version of the Apostles’ Creed contain Christ’s descent.  Whether it says that he descended into hell or to the dead is a minor issue.

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KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 26, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANNE AND JOACHIM, PARENTS OF SAINT MARY OF NAZARETH

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

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KRT

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