Archive for the ‘Georgia Southern University’ Tag

Nobility of Character   1 comment

Atlas Scan

Above:  Dougherty, Baker, and Mitchell Counties, Georgia

Image Source = Hammond’s Complete World Atlas (1951)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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The Collect:

Gracious God, throughout the ages you transform

sickness into health and death into life.

Openness to the power of your presence,

and make us a people ready to proclaim your promises to the world,

through Jesus Christ, our healer and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 47

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 30:27-33 (Thursday)

Isaiah 32:1-18 (Friday)

Isaiah 33:1-9 (Saturday)

Psalm 146 (All Days)

Romans 2:1-11 (Thursday)

Romans 2:12-16 (Friday)

Matthew 15:21-31 (Saturday)

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Hallelujah!

Praise the LORD, O my soul!

I will praise the Lord as long as I live;

I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth,

for there is no help in them.

When they breathe their last, they return to the earth,

and in that day their thoughts perish.

Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help:

whose hope is in the LORD their God;

who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;

who keeps faith forever;

who gives justice to those who are oppressed,

and food to those who hunger.

The LORD sets the prisoners free;

the LORD opens the eyes of the blind;

the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;

the LORD loves the righteous

and cares for the stranger;

the LORD sustains the orphan and the widow,

but frustrates the way of the wicked.

The LORD shall reign forever,

your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

Hallelujah!

–Psalm 146, The Book of Common Worship (1993)

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When I was a graduate student in history at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia, my thesis director asked me one day to help a friend and colleague of his who lived on the West Coast.  I was glad to do so.  The simple task entailed conducting some research there in town.  I learned what I could about a notorious law enforcement official (John Doe, for the purpose of this post) in an equally notorious county immediately south of Albany, Georgia, from the 1940s through the 1960s.  My answers came quickly.  Doe, whom his white-washed profile in the county history described as a devoted family man, a faithful Christian, and a deacon of the First Baptist Church in the county seat, was the sort of police officer who gave Southern law enforcement a bad name, especially among African Americans.  The federal government investigated him after he threw acid into the face of an African-American man, in fact.  No charges or disciplinary actions resulted, however, and Doe served locally until he retired and won a seat in the state General Assembly.  His offenses never caught up with him in this life.

A few years ago a student told a story in class.  He had been opening doors at his family’s church.  In the process he opened a closet door and found Ku Klux Klan robes.  Older members of the congregation preferred not to discuss why the robes were there.  I know, however, that the Klan had much support from many churchgoers a century ago and more recently than that.

A composite of the readings from Isaiah and Romans says that, among other things, character matters and becomes evident in one’s actions and inactions.  As we think, so we are and behave.  For example, do we really care for the vulnerable people around us, or do we just claim to do so?  To use other examples, do we profess “family values” while practicing serial infidelity or condemn gambling while playing slot machines?  Few offenses are more objectionable than hypocrisy.

Among my complaints about the Bible is the fact that it almost never mentions one’s tone of voice, a detail which can change the meaning of a statement.  Consider, O reader, the exchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-27.  Was he being dismissive of her?  I think not.  The text provides some clues to support my conclusion:

  1. Jesus had entered the region of Tyre and Sidon, Gentile territory, voluntarily.
  2. Later our Lord and Savior expressed his compassion for people outside that region via words and deeds.  Surely his compassion knew no ethnic or geographic bounds.

No, I propose that Jesus responded to the Canaanite woman to prompt her to say what she did, and that he found her rebuttal satisfactory.  Then he did as she requested.

Jesus acted compassionately and effectively.  Hebrew prophets condemned judicial corruption and the exploitation of the poor.  One function of the language of the Kingdom of God (in both Testaments) was to call the attention of people to the failings of human economic and political systems.  That function applies to the world today, sadly.

What does it say about your life, O reader?  In Isaiah 32 the standard of nobility is character, especially in the context of helping the poor, the hungry, and the thirsty–the vulnerable in society, more broadly.  Are you noble by that standard?  Do you love your neighbor as you love yourself?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 5, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BONIFACE OF MAINZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF ANDERS CHRISTENSEN ARREBO, “THE FATHER OF DANISH POETRY”

THE FEAST OF OLE T. (SANDEN) ARNESON, U.S. NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/06/05/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-18-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Oppression   1 comment

Beheading of St. John the Baptist Caravaggio

Above:  The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, by Caravaggio

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Sovereign God, raise your throne in our hearts.

Created by you, let us live in your image;

created for you, let us act for your glory;

redeemed by you, let us give you what is yours,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 14:3-11

Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]

Matthew 14:1-12

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He [the LORD] will judge the world with righteousness

and the people with his truth.

–Psalm 96:13, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Herod Antipas (reigned 4 B.C.E.-39 C.E.) was a bad character and a client ruler (a tetrarch, not a king, by the way) within the Roman Empire.  He had marriedHerodias, his niece and daughter-in-law, an act for which St. John the Baptist had criticized him.  This incestuous union violated Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21 and did not come under the levirate marriage exemption in Deuteronomy 25:5.  John, for his trouble, lost his freedom and his life.  Salome (whose name we know from archaeology, not the Bible), at the behest of her mother, Herodias, requested the head of the holy man on a platter.

The text from Isaiah 14 is an anticipated taunt of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.

How the oppressor has ceased!

How his insolence has ceased!

–Isaiah 14:3b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That oppression and insolence did cease in the case of Herod Antipas.  He had deserted the daughter of King Aretas IV of the Nabateans to wed Herodias.  In 36 C.E. Aretas took his revenge by defeating Herod Antipas.  The tetrarch sought Roman imperial assistance yet gained none, for the throne had passed from Tiberius to Caligula.  Herod Antipas, encouraged by Herodias, requested that Caligula award him the title of “King” as the Emperor had done to the tetrarch’s nephew (and brother of Herodias), Herod Agrippa I (reigned 37-44 C.E.).  Yet Herod Agrippa I brought charges against Herod Antipas, who, having traveled to Rome to seek the new title in person, found himself exiled to Gaul instead.  The territories of Herod Antipas came under the authority of Herod Agrippa I who was, unfortunately, one of the persecutors of earliest Christianity (Acts 12:1-5).

Oppression has never disappeared from the face of the Earth.  Certain oppressive regimes have ended, of course, but others have continued the shameful tradition.  You, O reader, can probably name some oppressive regimes in the news.  Sometimes they fight each other, so what is one supposed to do then?  I remember that, during my time as a graduate student at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia, I took a course about World War II.  The professor asked us one day that, if we had to choose between following Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler (a decision many in Eastern Europe had to make in the early 1940s), whom would we select?  I said, “Just shoot me now.”  That, I imagine is how many people in Syria must feel in 2014.

Only God can end all oppression.  Until God does so, may we stand with the oppressed and celebrate defeats of oppressors.  Some good news is better than none, after all.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 31, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 17:  THE TWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT AIDAN OF LINDISFARNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/08/31/devotion-for-saturday-before-proper-24-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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

1974-1987 Dutch Reformed

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

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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U.S. DUTCH REFORMED LITURGY, PART VI

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Lead me, guide me, along the way,

for if you lead me I cannot stray.

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

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I.  PREFACE AND INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, without further ado….

II.  THEOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENTS AND TENSIONS

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

Racism and Civil Rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of Apartheid….

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

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

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

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

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-16052

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a mockery of the gospel.

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

The CRCNA, which declared in 1987 that Apartheid was

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

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

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

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

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

Dancing in the Christian Reformed Church in North America

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Above:  Tango Tee, 1914

Image Copyright Holder = Puck Publishing Corporation

Artist = Walter Dean Goldbeck

Image Source = Library of Congress

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

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-28039

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

A:  It might lead to dancing.

–An old joke

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

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

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

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

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

War and Peace

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

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

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

Then he had continued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homosexuality and Homophobia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homosexuality is a growing problem in today’s society

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

a genuinely Christian and rehabilitative attitude toward these members.

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

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

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

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

Evolution

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

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

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

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

Roman Catholicism

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

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

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

The Answer begins:

The Lord’s Supper declares to us

that all our sins are completely forgiven

through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ,

which he himself accomplished on the cross once for all.

It also declares to us

that the Holy Spirit grafts us into Christ,

Who with his true body

is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father

where he wants us to worship him.

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

But the Mass teaches

that the living and the dead

do not have their sins forgiven

through the suffering of Christ

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

It also teaches

that Christ is bodily present

under the form of bread and wine

where Christ is therefore to be worshiped.

Thus the Mass is basically

nothing but a denial

of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ

and a condemnable idolatry.

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

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

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

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

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

Roles of Women and Language for God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dogma (1999)

Above:  Alanis Morissette as God in Dogma (1999)

A screen capture I took via PowerDVD from a legal DVD

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

The Christian Reformed Church in North America in the 1990s

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

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

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

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

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

III.  LITURGICAL DEVELOPMENTS AND TENSIONS

Rationales

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

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

Speaking of dross….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forms Old, New, and Revised

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those results place the 1990 survey numbers in context.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come, Lord Jesus.

We are open to your Spirit.

We await your full presence.

Our world finds rest in you alone.

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

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

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

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

Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Small Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Supplement also contained the following:

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

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

Psalter Hymnal (1987)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So far, so good.

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

Toward the Future Hymnody

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

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

IV.  CONCLUSION

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

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BIBLIOGRAPHY OF HARDCOPY SOURCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 22, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 7–THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALBAN, FIRST ENGLISH MARTYR

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

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

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF NOLA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Posted June 22, 2014 by neatnik2009 in Faith and Cinema, 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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Excesses and Errors of Pietism   44 comments

Excesses and Errors of Pietism

Above:  The Last Page of My Draft of This Post

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I am an Episcopalian.  I used to identify more as an Anglican, but many Donatists in North America have taken that label for themselves.  So now I identify primarily as an Episcopalian and secondarily as an Anglican.  Yet I embrace the broad, inclusive meaning of Anglicanism, with its acceptance, tolerance, and collegiality.  And I like the Anglican spirit of unity in worship, not theological orthodoxy–whichever version of it a specific church party might seek to define as normative.  So my religion is sacramental, ritualistic, and warm-hearted, given to good works.  And my religion is quite intellectual, for the human brain is a great gift from God.

Given my spiritual and theological predilections, I bristle against the excesses and errors of Pietism.  On occasion my expressions of this sentiment have caused offense to some in my family and beyond it.  Sometimes people have accused me of judging.  No, my offense (not sin) was to hold and state a contrary opinion.  For that I offer no apology.  As I sign I have says,

FOR EVERY ACTION THERE IS AN EQUAL AND OPPOSITE CRITICISM.

I do not apologize for the fact of another person’s thin skin.

Yet Pietism is not all bad.  It emerged in European Lutheranism shortly after the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648).  One Jakob Spener (1635-1705), responding to stale confessional orthodoxy, proposed six goals for Christian living:

  1. Individual Bible study;
  2. The practice of the priesthood of all believers;
  3. The priority of good works;
  4. The maintenance of charity amid theological controversy;
  5. The improved education and training of clergy; and
  6. The reform of preaching to fit the previous five goals.

Many Pietists, using slogans such as

LIFE VERSUS DOCTRINE

and

REALITY VERSUS THE APPEARANCE OF GODLINESS,

focused on a living faith–an excellent ideal.  And they engaged in many great charitable works which improved societies–also consistent with the best aspects of Christianity.

But excesses and errors developed early and spread abroad quickly.  They live today.

  1. Sometimes the focus on holy living has devolved into persnickety rules, such as prohibitions against playing cards or dancing.  The rejection of one form of stale orthodoxy–abstract theology–has led to another form of stale orthodoxy–legalism–really a heresy.  This also constitutes a purity code.  Jesus rejected purity codes of his day.
  2. The emphasis on regeneration (a term I have seen used so many ways that I have ceased to know what it means when someone uses it) reflects a basic flaw in Protestantism–too much emphasis on the individual and not enough on the faith community.
  3. This obsession with regeneration has led to a rejection of good liturgy, such as the church year, service books, and “smells and bells.”  I, as a ritualist, object to this error.  A stunted sacramental theology has hindered much of Protestantism, denying it the fullness it might have enjoyed and shared otherwise.
  4. The undervaluing of objective truth in favor of subjective experience has been unfortunate.  I, as one who values objective reality highly, take issue with excessive subjectivity.  In fact, I, as a history buff, like to apply universal, timeless ethical standards to historical figures.  Some tell me that I ought not to do this, but they are displaying excessive subjectivity.

Despite the historical origins of Pietism in late seventeenth-century European Lutheranism, I recognize a related mentality in the Puritanism (which rejected the priesthood of the believer in favor of a high view of the pastor as interpreter of the Bible) of the early-to-late 1600s.  As Professor Edmund S. Morgan wrote in The Puritan Family, Puritans emphasized rules of civil living

in order to convince themselves that they were sanctified.

–page 5

Unfortunately, some of these rules were quite strict–down to punishing people for humming or singing to themselves in public on Sunday and making church attendance mandatory.  But, as Roger Williams observed correctly, the only sincere prayer is the one a person offers sincerely.

I recognize excesses of Pietism in wrong-headed obsessions with “worldliness” and “worldly amusements.”  Some examples follow:

  1. In the 1870s the pastor and Session of Central Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, Georgia, carried out a “reign of terror” (a term from page 18 of the 1979 church history), excommunicating about half of the congregation.   The excommunicated had danced or played bridge or hosted a dance at home.  Deacon Frank Block, who published an eighteen-page defense of himself, had done the latter.  The pastor left under a cloud of controversy in December 1878 and the congregation took years to heal.
  2. Over a decade ago I heard a history professor at Georgia Southern University–a good liberal Episcopalian forced into home schooling by the local school system’s problems–speak of awkward moments at gatherings of the local home schooling association.  One other parent, for example, forbade her child(ren) to play soccer because the sport was “too worldly.”  The professor shook his head in dismay.
  3. The Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), founded in 1880, had liberalized by 1910.  Finally it resolved officially that any man who wore a necktie to church was not violating Biblical standards.  So, in 1910 and 1911, the Church of God (Guthrie, Oklahoma) separated.  Its leaders cited doctrinal drift and church “worldliness” as justifications for the schism.
  4. Gene Pollett (who told me the following story in the 1990s) served as the pastor of Andrew Chapel Methodist Church, Kathleen, Georgia, in the 1960s.  There was little for the youth of the community to do on Saturday nights, so parents from various churches agreed to chaperone a weekly dance held at the fellowship hall of Andrew Chapel.  One Saturday night a local Southern Baptist minister made a scene, confronting Gene and complaining about the sinful dancing taking place inside.  Unfortunately for that preacher, some portion of his congregation was present at the dance and heard his rant.  That Baptist congregation was seeking a new pastor shortly thereafter.

I know that some might beat me about the theological head and neck with Romans 14 and that others might merely suggest that I read it.  I have read it–many times, in fact.  And I have read other Pauline passages regarding one’s activities in relation to “weaker members,” as the texts refer to them.  My lifestyle is quiet and basic.  It is free of scandalous behaviors.  Yet I know that some “weaker members” might not understand even my simple lifestyle as I do.  I have decided, however, that I will try to live a good life because that is the right thing to do.  I have vowed to leave my corner of the world better than I found it because that is what I ought to do.  And I will not permit the potential confusion on the part of others to limit my choices.  If I were to do so, I would do little or nothing.  And then what good would I be in this world?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 3, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR CARL LICHTENBERGER, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

THE FEAST OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN, NOVELIST

THE FEAST OF JIMMY LAWRENCE, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF PRUDENCE CRANDALL, EDUCATOR

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Amended on September 5, 2013

Amended on October 18, 2013

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ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Bowker, John, ed.  The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions.  New York, NY:  Oxford University Press, 1997.  I find this volume quite useful during my ongoing quest to understand the content of religious claims objectively.

Melton, J. Gordon.  Encyclopedia of American Religions.  4h. Ed.  Detroit, MI:  Gale Research, Inc., 1993.  This is a crucial reference work in my library.

Morgan, Edmund S.  The Puritan Family:  Religion and Domestic Relations in Seventeenth-Century New England.  2d.  Ed.  New York, NY:  Harper & Row, 1966.  Morgan was an expert of Puritanism.

Precht, Fred L., ed.  Lutheran Worship:  History and Practice.  St. Louis, MO:  Concordia Publishing House, 1993.  This work includes a strong Confessional Lutheran (Missouri Synod) critique of Pietism.  I agree with parts of that critique and disagree with others, for I am not a Confessional Lutheran–or even a Lutheran, although I could be a Lutheran under certain circumstances.

Smith, John Robert.  The Church That Stayed:  The Life and Times of Central Presbyterian Church in the Heart of Atlanta, 1858-1978.  Atlanta, GA:  The Atlanta Historical Society, 1979.  O, the treasures one finds at thrift stores!

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Which Side Are You On?   1 comment

Above:  Moses Window (By Lawerence Saint) at the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (Washington National Cathedral), Washington, D.C.

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Exodus 2:1-15 (An American Translation):

Now a man belonging to the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi.  The woman conceived and bore a son, and seeing that he was robust, she hid him for three months.  When she could no longer hide him, she procured an ark of papyrus reeds for him, and daubing it with bitumen and pitch, she put the child in it, and placed it among the reeds beside the bank of the Nile.  His sister posted herself some distance away to see what would happen to him.

Presently Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe at the Nile, when her maids walked on the bank of the Nile.  Then she saw the ark among the reeds and sent her maid to get it.  On opening it, she saw the child, and it was a boy crying!  She took pity on him, and said,

This is one of the Hebrews’ children.

Thereupon his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter,

Shall I go and summon a nurse for you from the Hebrew women, to nurse the child for you?

Pharaoh’s daughter said to her

Go.

So the girl went and called the child’s mother, to whom Pharaoh’s daughter said,

Take this child away and nurse it for me, and I will pay the wages due you.

So the woman took the child and nursed him; and when the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son.  She called his name Moses [drawn out];

For,

she said,

I drew him out of the water.

It was in those days that Moses, now grown up, went out to visit his fellow countrymen and noted their heavy labor.  He saw an Egyptian kill a Hebrew, one of his own countrymen; so, looking this way and that, and seeing that there was no one in sight, he killed the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.  Another day, when he went out, there were two Hebrews fighting!  So he said to him that was in the wrong,

Why do you strike your companion?

He replied,

Who made you ruler and judge over us?  Are you thinking of murdering me as you did the Egyptian?

Then was Moses afraid.

The incident must surely be known,

he thought.

When Pharaoh heard about the matter, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to the land of Midian, and sat down beside a well.

Psalm 69:1-2, 31-38 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Save me, O God,

for the waters have risen to my neck.

I am sinking in deep mire,

and there is no firm ground for my feet.

31 As for me, I am afflicted an in pain;

your help, O God, will lift me up on high.

32 I will praise the Name of God in song;

I will proclaim his greatness with thanksgiving.

33 This will please the LORD more than an offering of oxen,

more than bullocks with horns and hoofs.

34 The afflicted will see and be glad;

you who seek God, your heart shall live.

35 For the LORD listens to the needy,

and his prisoners he does not despise.

36 Let the heavens and the earth praise him,

the seas and all that moves in them;

37 For God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah;

they shall live there and have it in possession.

38 The children of his servants will inherit it,

and those who love this Name will dwell therein.

Matthew 11:20-24 (An American Translation):

Then he [Jesus] began to reproach the towns in which most of his wonders had been done, because they did not repent.

Alas for you, Chorazin!  Alas for you, Bethsaida!  For if the wonders that have been done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes long ago!  But I tell you, Tyre and Sidon will fare better on the day of judgment than you will!  And you, Capernaum!  Are you to be exalted to the skies?  You will go down among the dead!  For if the wonders that have been done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have stood until today.  But I tell you that the land of Sodom will fare better than the Day of Judgment than you will!

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The Collect:

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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“Repentance” is a word used often and misunderstood frequently.  It means far more than apologizing for a deed or for deeds; it entails changing one’s mind, literally turning around.  This theme links the readings from Genesis and Matthew.

Moses enters the story in Genesis 2.  His mother and sister arrange for him to enter the Pharonic palace under the care of the Pharaoh’s daughter.  The Pharaoh in question might be Sobekhotep III, who had issued the “kill Hebrew baby boys” order at the end of Chapter 1.  But the princess obviously had some sway with her father.

So Moses grew up in the royal palace.  One day, however, he had to decide which side he was on.  He chose the side of the abused and enslaved.  In the process he killed an abuser, an act for the which the Pharaoh (probably Sobekhotep IV, second Pharaoh to reign after Sobekhotep III) tried to have Moses killed.  But Moses escaped into the land of Midian.

This chapter in the life of Moses the liberator ends with him on the run for murder.  He had turned his back on his comfortable, safe existence, which he could no longer continue because he could no longer be blind to what his adoptive family was doing to his people.

Matthew Chapter 11 begins a section on the rejection of Jesus by people.  This section begins with John the Baptist, languishing in prison, sending messengers to ask Jesus if he (Jesus) is the Messiah.  Jesus provides his answer (in brief, my deeds speak for themselves) then praised his forerunner.  And, as people and rejected and done violence to John the Baptist, the same will happen to Jesus.

Then we come to this day’s reading from Matthew.  Jesus condemned Chorazin and Bethsaida, Galilean cities where Jesus had worked mighty deeds but evidence repentance was impossible to find.  Capernaum, were Jesus lived, was likewise unrepentant.  It will go badly for them on the day of judgment, the author of Matthew quoted Jesus as saying.  Tyre and Sidon were Gentile cities renowned for wickedness, and Sodom was an old example of unrighteousness and a lack of repentance numerous Biblical authors cited.  Such mighty acts would have inspired repentance in these places, so what was wrong with Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum?

While I was in graduate school at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia (2001-2003), I analyzed some old public school textbooks with regard to several axes, including treatment of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.  The author of a 1957 high school U.S. history textbook wrote,

It is difficult to suddenly change the habits of a lifetime.

This principle holds true in other settings.  Repentance entails changing how one thinks, and thoughts lead to actions.  Patterns of thinking become entrenched in us, and, for many, they become ossified as people become set in their ways.  We human beings have proved our capability to see and hear selectively in ways that justify ourselves to ourselves and those similar to us.  We need to be on guard against this tendency, for it blinds us to what God is saying, which includes notices of our sins.  How can we repent–turn around and change our minds–if we do not recognize that we have a problem?

It is easy to point out the ossification of others but difficult to see in ourselves.  We have spiritual blind spots, but that alone is an insufficient explanation for this phenomenon.  A full explanation must take account of the fact that we like to think of ourselves in positive terms, so our failings–our sins, those things which prevent us from being what we ought to be in God–disturb us.  Sometimes looking upon them is too much for us to bear.  But we must, if we are to live faithfully.

God knows that we have warts in our character, but there is only one perfect person in the Bible.  Look at the others; all of them were flawed.  For example, Jacob was a schemer, Moses and David were murderers, and Rahab was a prostitute.  Yet God used all of them, and the author of the Gospel of Matthew goes out of his way to list Rabab and Bathsheba as ancestors of Jesus.  So there is hope for us all, if only we turn to God and change our minds.  Do we dare to it?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 26, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND DAY OF CHRISTMAS:  THE FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN, DEACON AND MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/26/week-of-proper-10-tuesday-year-1/

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