Archive for the ‘Billy Graham’ Tag

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

1974-1987 Dutch Reformed

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

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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U.S. DUTCH REFORMED LITURGY, PART VI

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Lead me, guide me, along the way,

for if you lead me I cannot stray.

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

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I.  PREFACE AND INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, without further ado….

II.  THEOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENTS AND TENSIONS

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

Racism and Civil Rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of Apartheid….

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

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

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

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

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-16052

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a mockery of the gospel.

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

The CRCNA, which declared in 1987 that Apartheid was

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

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

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

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

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

Dancing in the Christian Reformed Church in North America

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Above:  Tango Tee, 1914

Image Copyright Holder = Puck Publishing Corporation

Artist = Walter Dean Goldbeck

Image Source = Library of Congress

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

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-28039

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

A:  It might lead to dancing.

–An old joke

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

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

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

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

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

War and Peace

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

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

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

Then he had continued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homosexuality and Homophobia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homosexuality is a growing problem in today’s society

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

a genuinely Christian and rehabilitative attitude toward these members.

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

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

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

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

Evolution

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

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

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

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

Roman Catholicism

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

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

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

The Answer begins:

The Lord’s Supper declares to us

that all our sins are completely forgiven

through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ,

which he himself accomplished on the cross once for all.

It also declares to us

that the Holy Spirit grafts us into Christ,

Who with his true body

is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father

where he wants us to worship him.

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

But the Mass teaches

that the living and the dead

do not have their sins forgiven

through the suffering of Christ

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

It also teaches

that Christ is bodily present

under the form of bread and wine

where Christ is therefore to be worshiped.

Thus the Mass is basically

nothing but a denial

of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ

and a condemnable idolatry.

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

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

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

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

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

Roles of Women and Language for God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dogma (1999)

Above:  Alanis Morissette as God in Dogma (1999)

A screen capture I took via PowerDVD from a legal DVD

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

The Christian Reformed Church in North America in the 1990s

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

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

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

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

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

III.  LITURGICAL DEVELOPMENTS AND TENSIONS

Rationales

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

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

Speaking of dross….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forms Old, New, and Revised

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those results place the 1990 survey numbers in context.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come, Lord Jesus.

We are open to your Spirit.

We await your full presence.

Our world finds rest in you alone.

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

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

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

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

Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Small Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Supplement also contained the following:

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

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

Psalter Hymnal (1987)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So far, so good.

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

Toward the Future Hymnody

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

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

IV.  CONCLUSION

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

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BIBLIOGRAPHY OF HARDCOPY SOURCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 22, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 7–THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALBAN, FIRST ENGLISH MARTYR

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

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

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF NOLA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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

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The Little Gate to God   4 comments

Little Gate to God

Above:  Part of Rauschenbusch’s Text, from Pilgrim Hymnal (1935)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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Those who know me well are aware of the fact that I collect hymnals, especially old ones.  I have begun to explore a Christmas present, a copy of the 1916 Episcopal Hymnal, to great delight.  And the line of Pilgrim Hymnals interests me.  I have copies copyrighted 1912, 1935, and 1958.  Archive.org provides a method of obtaining a free electronic copy of the 1904 version.

Pilgrim Hymnals

Above:  The 1912, 1935, and 1958 Pilgrim Hymnals

Photograph Dated December 28, 2013 Common Era

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

All of these hymnals stand in the worship lineage of the United Church of Christ (UCC) (1957-), which adopted and authorized The New Century Hymnal in 1995.  As of yesterday, when I checked the UCC website most recently, the church publisher sold not only the 1995 hymnal and a Spanish-language hymnal, but The Hymnal of the United Church of Christ (1974), Pilgrim Hymnal (1958), and The Hymnal (1941) of the former Evangelical and Reformed Church (1934-1957).

Hymnals

Above:  The 1941, 1958, 1974, and 1995 Hymnals

Photograph Dated December 28, 2013 Common Era

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Of these volumes The Hymnal (1941) is the most impressive and Pilgrim Hymnal (1958) is also quite good.  The other two are regrettable books.  That is this Episcopalian’s opinion.

Pilgrim Hymnal 1935 Title

Above:  Part of the Title Page of Pilgrim Hymnal (1935)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Pilgrim Hymnal (1935) is a revision of Pilgrim Hymnal (1931).

Pilgrim Hymnal 1935 Copyright

Above:  The Copyright Notice in Pilgrim Hymnal (1935)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

This fact causes me to ponder the economics of hymnal revision, especially during the Great Depression.  I do recall that 1931 was the year the National Council of Congregational Churches of the United States (1871-1931) merged with the General Conference of the Christian Church (1890-1931) to form the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches (1931-1957).  My surmise, then, is that the 1935 revision was not an overhaul of the 1931 volume.  I find a hint of this in the Preface to the 1958 Pilgrim Hymnal:

This book was first conceived as a revision of the Pilgrim Hymnal of 1931, but the recent developments in hymnody, in church life, and in world history have made it necessary to plan our work in larger terms.

–page v

Pilgrim Hymnal 1958 Copyright

Above:  The Copyright Notice in Pilgrim Hymnal (1958)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

I have read online that the 1935 Pilgrim Hymnal contains the greatest concentration of Social Gospel hymns.  I, being a skilled hair splitter, wonder if the authors of those remarks have distinguished between the Social Gospel and Neo-Orthodoxy, both of which prioritize addressing and correcting societal ills.  Yet my study of the 1935 book does reveal many hymns about societal responsibility–especially on a national level.  And my study of the 1904 and 1912 predecessors reveals that those volumes were Social Gospel (defined narrowly) publications.

The theological orientation of the 1935 Pilgrim Hymnal becomes clear before hymn #1, “Holy, Holy, Holy!  Lord God Almighty.”  Opposite that hymn one finds a text by Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918), the great theologian of the Social Gospel:

In the castle of my soul

Is a little postern gate,

Whereat, when I enter,

I am in the presence of God,

In a moment, in the turning of a thought,

I am where God is.

This is a fact.

—–

The world of men is made of jangling noises.

With God is a great silence.

But that silence is a melody

Sweet as the contentment of love,

Thrilling as a touch of flame.

When I enter into God,

All life has a meaning.

Without asking I know;

My desires are even now fulfilled,

My fever is gone

In the great quiet of God.

My troubles are but pebbles on the road,

My joys are like the everlasting hills.

So it is when I step through the gate of prayer

From time into eternity.

When I am in the consciousness of God,

My fellowmen are not far off and forgotten,

But close and strangely dear.

Those whom I love

Have a mystic value.

They shine as if a light were glowing within them.

—–

So it is when my soul steps through the postern gate

Into the presence of God.

Big things become small, and small things become great.

The near becomes far, and the future is near.

The lowly and despised is shot through with glory.

God is the substance of all revolutions;

When I am in him, I am in the Kingdom of God

And in the Fatherland of my Soul.

Several aspects of that text perk up my theological ears.  The affirmation of the image of God in others is a timeless and sadly necessary message to repeat.  Today, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, is an especially appropriate time to do so.

The recognition of being in the Kingdom of God in the heightened state of awareness of being in the presence of God rings true with me.  To the writing and theology of Rauschenbusch I add the subsequent work and thought of C. H. (Charles Harold) Dodd, who explained Realized Eschatology in The Founder of Christianity (1970):

God, the Eternal, the omnipresent, can hardly be said to be nearer or farther off at this time or that.  If he is king at all, he is king always and everywhere.  In what sense his kingdom does not come; it is.  But human experience takes place within a framework of time and space.  There are particular moments in the lives of men and in the history of mankind when what is permanently true (if largely unrecognized)  becomes manifestly and effectively true.  Such a moment in history is reflected in the gospels….

–pages 56 and 57 of the 1970 paperback edition

The contextualization of one’s circumstances in the presence of God, paired with due awestruck humility (the fear of God, in traditional language) is a healthy spiritual attitude.

And the attachment to others in God is a profoundly Biblical attitude.

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we say you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”  And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

–Matthew 25:37-40, The New Revised Standard Version

The reverse situation is not happy, however:

Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

–Matthew 25:45, The New Revised Standard Version

There is also this from the Letter of James:

What good is it, my friends, for someone to say he has faith when his actions do nothing to show it?  Can that faith save him?  Suppose a fellow-Christian, whether man or woman, is in rages with not enough food for the day, and one of you says, “Goodbye, keep warm, and have a good meal,” but does nothing to supply that their bodily needs, what good is that?  So with faith; if it does not lead to action, it is by itself a lifeless thing.

–James 2:14-17, The Revised English Bible

Rauschenbusch understood these lessons well in the context of his Baptist congregation in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, New York.  He knew that the fact that tenements were such substandard housing was a sin, one which required correction.  He grasped the communal roots of Christianity and lived accordingly.  He was, however, overly optimistic about how much people could do to change the world.  Yet Rauschenbusch, despite his insufficient theology of sin–which Reinhold Niebuhr corrected–did call necessary and proper attention to the fact that the church has societal duties.  To those who would rebuff this idea, I quote the late Reverend Sherwood Eliot Wirt, a long-time associate of Billy Graham:

James was not wrong when he demanded that Christians show their faith by their works.  Jesus Christ was not wrong when he told his listeners in effect to stop sitting on their hands and to get to work doing God’s will.  He did not come to earth to split theological hairs, but to minister to a world in need and to save men out of it for eternity.  It is time the air was cleared.  To pit social action against evangelism  is to raise a phony issue, one that Jesus would have spiked in a sentence.  He commanded his disciples to spread the Good News, and to let their social concerns be made manifest through the changed lives of persons of ultimate worth.

The Social Conscience of the Evangelical (New York, NY:  Harper & Row, 1968), page 154

And is it not evidence of a changed life, for example, to oppose the exploitation and endangerment of people who have to live in substandard housing?  Should not all human housing meet certain basic standards?  Rauschenbusch understood this point well.

The unfortunate acceptance of the Roman social order–complete with slavery–which we find in much of the New Testament reflects the human authorship of those texts and the widespread expectation of the temporal proximity of the Second Coming of Jesus.  If one thinks that Christ will return soon and wipe away the social structures, problems, and injustices, focusing on individual spiritual preparation is a logical decision.  Yet nearly 2000 years have passed and many of my heroes of Christian faith have challenged and/or changed social systems for the better.  They have been salt and light, the hands and feet of Christ.

In contrast to those go-along-and-get-ready-for-Jesus parts of the New Testament I find others with a different message.  Revelation 18 and 19 come to mind immediately.  Babylon (read:  the Roman Empire, based on slavery, military conquest, and economic exploitation) has fallen.  Heaven rejoices.  Yet certain kings and merchants of the earth lament this change, for they have benefited from the vanquished political and economic arrangements.  Good news for the oppressed is bad news for the oppressors.  And God is the substance of that revolution.

So, O reader, are you one in a position to rejoice or to lament when contemporary Babylons–based on violence and/or economic and other forms of exploitation–fall?  And is your understanding of Christian responsibility overly individualistic?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 28, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS:  THE FEAST OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS

The Call of God, With All Its Responsibilities I   2 comments

Above:  Clouds at Sunset

Image Source = Fir0002

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sunset02.jpg)

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Isaiah 40:21-31 (New Revised Standard Version):

Have you not known?  Have you not heard?

Has it not been told you from the beginning?

Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,

and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;

who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,

and spreads them like a tent to live in;

who brings princes to naught,

and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,

scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,

when he blows upon them, and they wither,

and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

To whom then will you compare me?

or who is my equal? says the Holy One.

Lift up your eyes on high and see:

Who created these?

He who brings out their host and numbers them,

calling them all by name;

because he is great in strength,

mighty in power,

not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob,

and speak, O Israel,

My way is hidden from the LORD,

and my right is disregarded by my God?

Have you not known?  Have you not heard?

The LORD is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,

and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,

and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.

Psalm 147:1-12, 21c (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Hallelujah!

How good it is to sing praises to our God!

how pleasant it is to honor him with praise!

2  The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem;

he gathers the exiles of Israel.

3  He heals the brokenhearted

and binds up their wounds.

4  He counts the number of the stars

and call s them all by their names.

5  Great is our LORD and mighty in power;

there is no limit to his wisdom.

6  The LORD lifts up the lowly,

but casts the wicked to the ground.

7  Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;

make music to our God upon the harp.

8  He covers the heavens with clouds

and prepares the rain for the earth;

9  He makes grass to grow upon the mountains

and green plants to serve mankind.

10  He provides food for flocks and herds

and for the young ravens when they cry.

11  He is not impressed by the might of a horse;

he has no pleasure in the strength of a man;

12  But the LORD has pleasure in those who fear him,

in those who await his gracious favor.

21c  Hallelujah!

1 Corinthians 9:16-23 (New Revised Standard Version):

If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!  For if I do this on my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission.  When then is my reward?  Just this:  that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free if charge, as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became a Jew, in order to win Jews.  To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, so I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Mark 1:29-39 (New Revised Standard Version):

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.  He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.  Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.  And the whole city was gathered around the door.  And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  And Simon and his companions hunted for him.  When they found him, they said to him,

Everyone is searching for you.

He answered,

Let us go on to the neighboring towns , so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.

And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/fifth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a/

Isaiah 40:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/eleventh-day-of-advent/

Mark 1:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/17/week-of-1-epiphany-wednesday-year-1/

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In the Autumn of 1991, during my first quarter at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton, Georgia, my father was the newly appointed pastor the Sumner United Methodist Church, Sumner, Georgia.  I did not know it yet, but I was on the cusp of converting to The Episcopal Church, which I did at St. Anne’s Church, Tifton, on December 22, 1991.  (http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/20/reflections-upon-the-eighteenth-anniversary-of-my-confirmation/)  In the meantime, however, I was still a United Methodist.  One Sunday morning, while teaching adult Sunday School, I offended someone by accident.

You, O reader, might wonder what terrible thing I said, what utterly offensive comment I made.  I will tell you.  I was discussing grace, especially the prevenient variety, by which God brings us into the Christian fold.  God does beckon us, after all.  I offered a scenario:  God is beckoning a non-Christian man, who responds favorably and obediently to God’s prevenient grace yet dies before making a profession of faith.  Does the man go to Heaven or to Hell?  In other words, will God be faithful to this man, who had responded favorably to him?  Most people said that the man would go to Heaven.  But two visitors, a daughter and son-in-law of a member, said that he would go to Hell, for he had not made a profession of faith and been baptized yet.  I made clear in a polite and civilized way, in a pleasant and conversational tone, and free of any insult or hint thereof, that I disagreed.

That was my offense.  I disagreed.  I learned after the fact that the visitors had taken offense.  I was unapologetic then, as I remain, for another person’s thin theological skin is not my responsibility.

And I remain convinced that we human beings ought to admit that the only limits on grace and divine forgiveness are those God imposes on them, and that only God knows what those limits are.  Or, as David said in 2 Samuel 24:14,

…let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.  (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition)

Grace is of the essence.  With that summary, let us work through the readings for this Sunday.

The lesson from Isaiah 40 predicts the liberation of Jews from the Babylonian Exile.  This is a chapter of comfort, as it begins with these words:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and cry to her

that her warfare is ended,

that her iniquity is pardoned,

that she has received from the LORD’s hand

double for all her sins.

(Isaiah 40:1-2, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition)

The God of Isaiah 40 and Psalm 147 is the Creator, the judge who also shows mercy, looks favorably upon the faithful, and is infinitely wise.  The chapter, which begins with “…comfort my people,” ends with the promise that God will grant “power to the faint.”

That power enabled Paul the Apostle to persist faithfully through death threats, beatings, imprisonments, and a shipwreck, all the way until an employee of the Roman Empire cut his head off.  Grace moved Paul from the “right side of the law” and placed him in risky situations.  This was not cheap grace, that which demands nothing of one and is therefore useless.  No, it was costly grace–free in so far as Paul received it freely–but costly in terms of what it demanded of him.  The restrictions of Torah law no longer applied to him, but the law of the love of Christ demanded his all.

Jesus, of course, was perfect as well as fully human and fully divine.  Yet even he needed to get away, find quiet time, and pray.  A day full of healing will take a great deal out of a Messiah, I suppose.  He was grace incarnate.  It was Christ whom Paul preached and followed from his conversion to his execution.  It is Jesus whom we ought to follow, if we are not doing so already, and to whom God beckons people.

And if even Jesus needed to be quiet and to pray, how much more do we need to do these?  I live in a technology-soaked society, where many people are never really “away from it all” (except when sleeping) because somebody can contact them the rest of the time.  This is not healthy.  We need to nourish ourselves with peace, quiet, and God.  Otherwise, we will nothing constructive to offer anyone else.

Paul had a vocation as an evangelist and ultimately a martyr.  I have my vocation, and you, O reader, have yours.  The details of our vocations will vary according to various factors, but the principle is the same:  to glorify God, to be a light of God to others, to encourage our fellow Christians in their discipleship, to attract others to our Lord and Savior, to understand that there is no distinction between evangelism and positive social action.  As Shirwood Eliot Wirt, a close associate of Billy Graham wrote in the final chapter of The Social Conscience of the Evangelical (1968):

James was not wrong when he demanded that Christians show their faith by their works.  Jesus Christ was not wrong when he told his listeners in effect to stop sitting on their hands and to get to work doing God’s will.  He did not come to earth to split theological hairs, but to minister to a world in need and to save men out of it for eternity.  It is time the air is cleared.  To pit social action against evangelism is to raise a phony issue, one that Jesus would have spiked in a sentence.  He commanded his disciples to spread the Good News, and to let their social concern be made manifest through the changed lives of persons of ultimate worth.  (Page 154)

If I love my neighbor as I love myself, I cannot say honestly that I do not care about the injustice he or she endures, that he or she does not earn a living wage, that a flawed justice system convicted and sent him or her to prison unjustly, that he or she suffers under the weight of undue stigma, et cetera.  Grace demands me to care about all this and to act accordingly as well as whether my neighbor has a positive, growing relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. These are some of my responsibilities.  They are also yours.

God’s hands are my hands–and yours.  God’s voice is my voice–and yours.  May they be useful and eloquent, respectively.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 19, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SADHU SUNDAR SINGH, TEACHER AND EVANGELIST

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/06/19/fifth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-b/

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