Archive for the ‘Rituals’ Tag

Compassion and the Sabbath, Part I   1 comment

The Pool

Above:  The Pool, by Palma Giovane

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God,

throughout time you free the oppressed,

heal the sick,

and make whole all that you have made.

Look with compassion on the world wounded by sin,

and by your power restore us to wholeness of life,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 38

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The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 23:1-8 (Friday)

Leviticus 24:5-9 (Saturday)

Psalm 81:1-10 (Both Days)

Romans 8:31-39 (Friday)

John 7:19-24 (Saturday)

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For this is a statute of Israel,

a law of the God of Jacob,

The charge he laid on the people of Joseph,

when they came out of the land of Egypt.

–Psalm 81:4-5, Common Worship (2000)

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The Sabbath theme continues in the pericopes from Leviticus and John.  The reading from Romans fits well with that from Johannine Gospel.  I adore a well-constructed lectionary!

The lessons from Leviticus speak of sacred time, rituals, and items.  As much as I, as a Christian, disagree with the pervasive sense of the holy as other and God as distant which one finds in the Law of Moses, I respect the efforts expended out of reverence.  God did become incarnate as Jesus (however the Trinitarian theology of that works), walk among people, and eat in homes, but excessive casualness regarding matters of ritual and spirituality is no virtue.  That understanding feeds my ritualism.

On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete rest, a sacred occasion.  You shall do no work; it shall be a sabbath of the LORD in all your settlements.

–Leviticus 23:3, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Yet Leviticus 12:3 commands male circumcision on the eighth day–even when that day falls on the Sabbath.  Did Jesus, therefore, sin when he healed on the Sabbath?  And was the desire of hostile of people to kill him for healing on the Sabbath sinful?  If one assumes that they understood his Sabbath day healings as constituting profaning the Sabbath, one must then, to be fair, cite Exodus 31:14-15, which calls for the death penalty.  Nevertheless, the religious laws of our Lord and Savior’s day permitted work (other than circumcision) on the Sabbath.  For example, saving a live was permissible.

Jesus proclaimed by words and deeds that every day is an appropriate time to act with maximum compassion and that no day is a good time to become bogged down in heartless and defensive legalism.  His love for those who needed his help and know it is the love to which St. Paul the Apostle refers in Romans 8.  Nothing can separate us from that love.  Dare we scorn it?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 13, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PLATO OF SYMBOLEON AND THEODORE STUDITES, EASTERN ORTHODOX ABBOTS; AND SAINT NICEPHORUS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, PATRIARCH

THE FEAST OF SAINT HELDRAD, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINTS RODERIC OF CABRA AND SOLOMON OF CORDOBA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/13/devotion-for-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-4-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Apostasy and Idolatry   1 comment

Kingdoms of Judah and Israel

Above:  Map of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Beloved God, from you come all things that are good.

Lead us by the inspiration of your Spirit to know those things that are right,

and by your merciful guidance, help us to do them,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 49

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 2:14-22 (Thursday)

Jeremiah 2:23-37 (Friday)

Jeremiah 6:1-10 (Saturday)

Psalm 80:7-15 (All Days)

Colossians 2:16-23 (Thursday)

Philippians 2:14-18; 3:1-4a (Friday)

John 7:40-52 (Saturday)

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Restore us, O God of hosts;

show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

–Psalm 80:7, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The reading for these three days overlap nicely, focusing on the themes of idolatry and apostasy.  To commit apostasy is to fall away from grace.  (Thus grace is not irresistible.  Strict Calvinism is therefore mistaken about that fifth of the TULIP formula.  I am also dubious of the Perseverance of the Saints, which relates to Irresistible Grace.)  An idol is anything which takes the place of God in one’s life.  Thus an idol might be a false deity, an activity, or even a sacred text.  Function in one’s life determines that thing’s status relative to idolatry.  Among the most popular idols is the Bible, which is supposed to function instead as an icon–through which people see God.  But, if one treats it as an idol, that is what it is for that person.

The lessons from Jeremiah condemn idolatry which has led to national apostasy, evident in ill-advised alliances with foreign, predatory empires.

What then do you gain by going to Egypt,

to drink the waters of the Nile?

or what do you gain by going to Assyria,

to drink the waters of the Euphrates?

Your wickedness will punish you,

and your apostasies will convict you.

Know and see that it is evil and bitter

for you to forsake the LORD your God;

the fear of me is not in you,

says the LORD GOD of hosts.

–Jeremiah 2:18-19, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

From the gloom of Jeremiah 2 and 6 we turn to the Pauline tradition, which emphasizes Christ crucified and resurrected.  St. Paul the Apostle rejects, among other things, Gnostic asceticism, a form of Jewish ritualism, and the practice of worshiping angels as methods as obtaining the spiritual upper hand.  Christ is sufficient, the ever-Jewish Paul tells us through the ages.

I understand the Apostle’s objection to Gnosticism, with its reliance on secret knowledge and belief that matter is evil.  If salvation comes from having secret knowledge, as Gnostics insisted, the death and resurrection of Jesus were pointless.  In fact, in Gnostic thought, he did not die because he was not even corporeal, for, in Gnosticism, he could not have had a body, a body being material and therefore evil.  Thus Gnosticism was not Christian.  The exclusion of Gnostic texts from the Bible was not, as some “documentaries” on the History Channel claim, a conspiracy of Church leaders to suppress truth and crush dissent.  No, it was a proper course of action.

As for rituals (especially Jewish ones), I approach the text from Colossians differently than do the authors of some of the commentaries I consulted.  A high proportion of these writers were Presbyterians with little use for ritual.  Their paragraphs screamed between the lines “This is why I am not a Papist!”  I, as an Episcopalian, know the value of ritual and of approaching it properly.  It should be an icon, not an idol, although it functions as the latter for many people.  But so does the Bible, and I do not heap scorn on that sacred anthology either.

Apostasy, a theme from the Jeremiah readings, recurs in John 7.  Temple officials accuse some Temple policemen of it for refusing to arrest Jesus, who had impressed them.  These officials also accuse Nicodemus of the same offense.  I realize that much of the Gospel of John reflects late first-century C.E. Jewish Christian invective, for Jewish Christians had found themselves marginalized within Judaism.  Nevertheless, the stories in John 7:40-52 have the ring of truth, for fearful people in positions of power have attempted to retain it in many places and at numerous times.

Idols come in many varieties, shapes, sizes, and ages.  As I have written in this post, function in one’s life determines status relative to idolatry in that life.  Among the more common idols is attachment to the status quo ante, especially if one benefits from it.  Thus we become upset when God does something we do not expect.  This might threaten just our sense of order (hardly a minor issue), but also our identity (also a major consideration) and socio-economic-political or socio-economic standing (of which we tend to be quite protective).  But when was religion supposed to function as a defense against God?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 25, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL FARADAY, SCIENTIST

THE FEAST OF BAYARD RUSTIN, WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/08/25/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-22-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Of Externals and Internals   2 comments

gfs_7888

Above:  Bishop Robert C. Wright (Episcopalian) and Archbishop Wilton Gregory (Roman Catholic) at the Good Friday Pilgrimage for Immigrants, April 18, 2014

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

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The Collect:

O God our rock, you offer us a covenant of mercy,

and you provide the foundation of our lives.

Ground us in your word, and strengthen our resolve to be your disciples,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 38

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 24:1-8 (Thursday)

Deuteronomy 30:1-5 (Friday)

Amos 2:6-11 (Saturday)

Psalm 31:1-5, 19-24 (All Days)

Romans 2:17-29 (Thursday)

Romans 9:6-13 (Friday)

Matthew 7:1-6 (Saturday)

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Be my strong rock, a fortress to save me,

for you are my rock and my stronghold;

guide me, and lead me for your name’s sake.

–Psalm 31:3, Common Worship (2000)

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One of the faults of certain varieties of Protestantism is overemphasizing the internal and unseen while underemphasizing the external and the seen. Pietists, for example, dismiss “externals” frequentlu, as if “externals” are meaningless. They are not necessarily so.

No, a ritual (such as a sacrifice or circumcision) can matter quite a lot, for we humans need visible signs and rites of passage. How else are we to mark the difference between one stage of life and another or to note a covenant to God? We need externals beause we see, touch, feel, hear, and smell; we are not disembodied sentients. The scriptures command many rituals in particular settings, in fact.

The scriptures also make clear that rituals are not supposed to be talismans which protect us from punishment for sins of which we have not repented, individually or collectively. Rituals one performs piously have meaning, but those one performs while disobeying divine commandments, such as how to treat people, offend God.

For crime after crime of Israel

I shall grant them no reprieve,

because they sell honest folk for silver

and the poor for a pair of sandals.

They grind the heads of the helpless into the dust

and push the humble out of their way.

Father and son resort to the temple girls,

so profaning my holy name.

–Amos 2:6-7, The Revised English Bible

God, the Bible tells us, cares deeply about how we act toward our fellow human beings. We ought to seek God’s best for them, not exploit them for our own gain and pleasure. We should seek to raise the status of the powerless, the less powerful, and the marginalized among us. Each of us bears the image of God and therefore deserves respect. When we seek to do those things may we succeed by grace. And may we engage in rituals which create holy atmospheres for our spiritual benefit and glorify—not mock—God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 10, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THEODORE PARKER, ABOLITIONIST AND MAVERICK UNITARIAN PASTOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTONY PIEROZZI, A.K.A. ANTONINUS OF FLORENCE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF FLORENCE

THE FEAST OF JOHN GOSS, ANGLICAN CHURCH COMPOSER AND ORGANIST; AND WILLIAM MERCER, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF NICOLAUS LUDWIG VON ZINZENDORF, RENEWER OF THE CHURCH

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/05/10/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-4-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Mutuality in God   1 comment

lent-banner2013-940x470

Above:  A Lenten Logo

This image is available on various websites.  Examples include http://pielover16.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-season-of-lent.htmlhttp://genyhub.com/profiles/blogs/lent-and-the-battlefield, and http://svccgilroy.wordpress.com/tag/lent/.

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The Collects:

Almighty and ever-living God, you hate nothing you have made,

and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent.

Create in us new and honest hearts, so that, truly repenting of all our sins,

we may receive from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

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

or

Gracious God, out of your love and mercy you breathed into dust

the breath of life, creating us to serve you and our neighbors.

Call forth our prayers and acts of kindness, and strengthen us

to face our mortality with confidence in the mercy of your Son,

Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 26

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The Assigned Readings:

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12

Psalm 51:1-17

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

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Some Related Posts:

Joel 2:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/devotion-for-january-21-and-22-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/first-day-of-lent-ash-wednesday/

Isaiah 58:

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

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/devotion-for-december-30-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/first-day-of-lent-ash-wednesday/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/third-day-of-lent/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/fourth-day-of-lent/

2 Corinthians 5-6:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/first-day-of-lent-ash-wednesday/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/week-of-proper-6-monday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/proper-7-year-b/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/devotion-for-august-28-lcms-daily-lectionary/

Matthew 6:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/first-day-of-lent-ash-wednesday/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/week-of-proper-6-wednesday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/week-of-proper-6-friday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/devotion-for-september-30-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/devotion-for-october-1-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

–Psalm 51:10, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Philip H. Pfatteicher, the noted U.S. Lutheran liturgist, wrote:

The observance of Lent and Easter is characterized by the primacy of community, for baptism incorporates those who are washed in its life-giving water into the community of the faithful people of God.  Anciently, Ash Wednesday was not a time for confession but for excommunication, excluding sinners, for a time, from the community in this world so that they might return from their erring ways and not be excluded forever in the next world.  Later privatized notions led to the emphasis on the confession of one’s sins.

The name Ash Wednesday (dies cinerum) derives from the custom which seems to have originated in Gaul in the sixth century of sprinkling ashes on the heads of penitents.  In the tenth and eleventh centuries the custom was adopted voluntarily by the faithful as a sign of penitence and a reminder of their mortality.

Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship:  Lutheran Liturgy in Its Ecumenical Context (Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Fortress, 1990), pages 223-224

I detect elements of both the original and modified meanings of Ash Wednesday in the assigned readings.  There are both judgment and mercy in God, who expects certain behaviors from us.  Rituals and fasts–good and spiritually meritorious practices when one engages them with a proper attitude–prove ineffective as talismans to protect one from divine punishment for sins.  To read these passages as dismissive of rituals and fasts as “externals,” as does the Pietist tradition, is to miss the point.  ”Externals,” according to Pietism, are of minimal or no importance; the individual experience of God in oneself takes precedence, minimizing even sacraments.  Although the Pietists are not entirely wrong, their underdeveloped sacramental theology is a major weakness and error.

No, the union of ritual and proper attitude in faithful community is of the essence.  Thus one cares actively for and about others.  Therefore the faithful prove themselves to be

authentic servants of God

–2 Corinthians 6:4a, The New Jerusalem Bible,

even in distressing circumstances.  Thus the faithful people of God glorify God in their words and deeds.  And whatever rituals their tradition embraces function for spiritual edification–as those the Law of Moses specifies were meant to do.

The original practice of Lent came from an understanding that what one does affects others.  This sense of mutuality, present in the Old and New Testaments, receives too little attention in the overly individualistic global West.  Rugged individualism, a great lie, is foreign to biblical ethics.  My branch of Christianity teaches the primacy of Scripture.  We are not Sola Scriptura people; no we are the tribe of the three-legged stool–Scripture, tradition, and reason.  My reason requires me to take seriously the communitarian ethic in the Bible and much of Christianity.  Thus I consider how my deeds and words affect my community, my congregation, and the world.

I invite you, O reader, to apply the same ethic to your life every day and to seek to be especially mindful of it during Lent.  These forty days are a wonderful season during which to nurture a good spiritual habit.  But, regardless of the meritorious spiritual habit you choose to focus on, may you succeed for the glory of God and the benefit of your fellow human beings.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 6, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM TEMPLE, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF TE WHITI O RONGOMAI, MAORI PROPHET

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEOPHANE VENARD, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MISSIONARY, AND MARTYR IN VIETNAM

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/devotion-for-ash-wednesday-years-a-b-and-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Deeds and Rituals   1 comment

cuci_tangan_pakai_sabun

Above:  Washing Hands With Soap

Image Source = Serenity

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

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The Collect:

Lord God, with endless mercy you receive

the prayers of all who call upon you.

By your Spirit show us the things we ought to do,

and give us the grace and power to do them,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 22

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 29:1-12 (Friday)

Isaiah 29:13-16 (Saturday)

Psalm 112:1-9 [10] (both days)

James 3:13-18 (Friday)

Mark 7:1-8 (Saturday)

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Some Related Posts:

Isaiah 29:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/devotion-for-december-12-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/devotion-for-december-13-lcms-daily-lectionary/

James 3:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/06/29/week-of-7-epiphany-monday-year-2/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/06/29/week-of-proper-2-monday-year-2/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/proper-20-year-b/

Mark 7:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/11/week-of-5-epiphany-tuesday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/06/20/week-of-5-epiphany-tuesday-year-2/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/devotion-for-the-thirteenth-and-fourteenth-days-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/proper-17-year-b-3/

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Light shines in the darkness for the upright;

the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.

It is good for them to be generous in lending

and to manage their affairs with justice.

–Psalm 112:4-5, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Ritualism, in and of itself, is positive.  It, paired with lived faith in God–the kind of faith which finds expression in, among other things, an active concern for what James 3:18 (The New Jerusalem Bible) calls

a harvest of justice,

is consistent with the witness of Hebrew prophets who decried judicial and political corruption and economic exploitation.  In fact, the instructions for the house of worship in the Law of Moses indicate a space designed for ritualism.  But the Law of Moses (when it does not call for stoning people or reflect a negative view of female biology) speaks of lived holiness for the community.

Many activities are positive.  Among these is washing one’s hands before eating–certainly a sanitary action.  Yet sanitation was not the concern Jesus addressed in Mark 7.  No, our Lord and Savior discussed tradition for its own sake and the sake of making some people appear holier than others.  He knew that washing hands could not purify one’s self-righteous attitude.  So rituals ought not to function as totems, which people imagine vainly will protect them from the wrath of God or merely from the consequences of their bad deeds and sins of omission.

May each of us engage in good deeds and rituals.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 10, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN LEONARDI, FOUNDER OF THE CLERKS REGULAR OF THE MOTHER OF GOD; AND SAINT JOSEPH CALASANCTIUS, FOUNDER OF THE CLERKS REGULAR OF RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF YORK, ARCHBISHOP

THE FEAST OF VIDA DUTTON SCUDDER, WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/devotion-for-friday-and-saturday-before-the-fifth-sunday-after-epiphany-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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My Fascination With Liturgy   1 comment

Liturgical Books I October 1, 2013

Above:  A Portion of My Liturgical Library, October 1, 2013

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As I have written on this weblog and elsewhere, I am an unapologetic ritualist.  The primary reason for this is simple and straight-forward:  Ritualism creates a holy atmosphere removed from the mundane realities of daily life.  Within this holy atmosphere I feel closer to God, who is always close to me, I know.  But this is about my spiritual life, not the reality of God.  And, if anyone chooses to challenge me on my embrace of ritualism, I refuse to waste much time or breath rebutting him or her.  I have said what I meant and meant what I said.  I have used clear language.  If that proves insufficient for someone, so be it.  I will not let such a person dissuade me from ritualism.

Liturgy, literally

the work of the people,

is vital in public worship.  Congregations ought not to spend much time impersonating knots on logs.  No, they should be very much involved.  Most of U.S. Lutheranism has recovered this awareness since the middle 1800s, as my recent self-directed study of U.S. Lutheran liturgy has revealed.  And I, as an Episcopalian, have the wonderful Book of Common Prayer (1979) to use.

The best liturgies are ritualistic ones, for they elevate souls and appeal to our higher natures while stimulating our senses.  We humans are not merely heads attached to bodies meant only to transport them.  And one unfortunate legacy of the Protestant Reformation was a reaction against–not a considered response to–certain excesses and errors of Medieval Roman Catholicism.  Regretfully, that reaction continues in bad liturgies designed to appeal to heads, not bodies.  Actually, the union of ritualism and active faith is a beautiful combination.

My fascination with liturgy originates from within and without.  Something about good liturgy appeals to me inherently, so I would have become a ritualist eventually anyhow.  And I, growing up in rural southern Georgia United Methodist congregations, witnessed much atrocious liturgical practice.  I had to convert or starve spiritually.  So I became an Episcopalian.  I have never looked back.

My collection of hymnals, service books, and volumes about liturgy began with a handful of volumes in the late 1980s-early 1990s.  Now that collection fills a tall bookcase and spills out of it.  Furthermore, I have begun a wish list of books (many of them from the United Church of Canada) to add to my collection in time.  My desire to know more about liturgy is insatiable, I rejoice to stay.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 1, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ANTHONY ASHLEY COOPER, LORD SHAFTESBURY, BRITISH HUMANITARIAN AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF SAINT REMIGIUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF RHEIMS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROMANUS THE MELODIST, PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT THERESA OF LISIEUX, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

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Below:  More of My Liturgical Library, October 1, 2013

Liturgical Books II October 1, 2013

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Excesses and Errors of Pietism   47 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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