Archive for the ‘Southern Presbyterian Church’ Tag

Psalms 98-101   1 comment

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POST XXXVIII OF LX

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 226

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Each morning I will destroy

all the wicked of the land,

to rid the city of the LORD

of all evildoers.

–Psalm 101:8, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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Morning after morning I shall reduce

all the wicked to silence,

ridding the LORD’s city of all evildoers.

–Psalm 101:8, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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Like cattle I destroyed

all the wicked in the land,

Cutting off from the city of Yahweh

the evildoers one and all.

–Psalm 101:8, Mitchell J. Dahood translation

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This post covers four psalms united by the theme of kingship.  God is the ideal king, we read; hesed (faithfulness/love/steadfast love/kindness) and justice define His reign.  Justice for the oppressed often has detrimental effects on oppressors, predictably.  All of us depend completely on God, who has been kind enough to give us law and who has demonstrated judgment and mercy as well as discipline and forgiveness.  The ideal human king strives to govern justly and avoid corruption.  This is a high standard, one which is impossible to achieve fully.  Even the best and most well-intentioned rulers, for example, cannot help but effect some injustice.

The last verse of Psalm 101 interests me.  The consensus of the five commentaries I consulted is that the scene is a familiar one in the ancient Near East:  a prince sitting at the gate early in the morning and dispensing justice.  (See Jeremiah 21:12; Psalm 46:5 or 6, depending on versification; Isaiah 37:36; and Lamentations 3:23.)  Mitchell J. Dahood, however, departs from the standard translations (“each morning” and “morning after morning”), noting that they create

the impression that the king was singularly ineffectual; an oriental king who each morning had to rid his land of undesirable citizens was destined for a very short reign.

Psalms III:  101-150 (1970), page 6

Therefore his rendering of the opening of Psalm 101:8 calls back to Psalm 49:14 or 15 (depending on versification), for that art of the Hebrew text of 101:8 is similar to the Hebrew for “like a calf,” which is parallel to “sheeplike.”

Linguistic nuances are fascinating.

Sin permeates and corrupts our entire being and burdens us more and more with fear, hostility, guilt, and misery.  Sin operates not only within individuals but also within society as a deceptive and oppressive power, so that even men of good will are unconsciously and unwillingly involved in the sins of society.  Man cannot destroy the tyranny of sin in himself or in his world; his only hope is to be delivered from it by God.

–From A Brief Statement of Belief (1962), Presbyterian Church in the United States

Living up to divine standards is an impossible task for we mere mortals because of the reality of sin, both individual and collective.  God knows that, however.  May we strive to come as close as possible to that standard, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, ANGLICAN PRIEST, PRESIDENT OF KING’S COLLEGE, “FATHER OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN CONNECTICUT,” AND “FATHER OF AMERICAN LIBRARY CLASSIFICATION;” TIMOTHY CUTLER, CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, ANGLICAN PRIEST, AND RECTOR OF YALE COLLEGE; DANIEL BROWNE, EDUCATOR, CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, AND ANGLICAN PRIEST; AND JAMES WETMORE, CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF JONATHAN FRIEDRICH BAHNMAIER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Difficulty   1 comment

Above:  St. Titus

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 9:18-27

Psalm 39:4-8a

Titus 2:1-10

Matthew 12:38-42

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Some of the readings for this Sunday are difficult.  Genesis 9:18-27 gives us the misnamed Curse of Ham (“Cursed be Canaan,” verse 25 says).  This curse follows a euphemistic description of either the castration or the incestuous and homosexual rape of Noah by his son Ham.  As one acquainted with the shameful history of racism, slavery, and institutionalized racial segregation  in the United States knows well, the misuse of this passage to justify these sins is an old story.  I know that story well, due to reading in both primary and secondary sources.  Primary sources include back issues of The Presbyterian Journal (founded as The Southern Presbyterian Journal), a publication by and for ardent defenders of racism and institutionalized racial segregation in the 1940s forward, some of whom went on to found the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), schismatic to the Presbyterian Church in the United States, or, informally, the old Southern Presbyterian Church, in 1973.  (The events of 1942-1972 are not ancient history!)  I have index cards from which I can cite many examples of quoting this and other passages of scripture to criticize efforts to work for the civil rights of African Americans, so nobody should challenge me regarding the facts of this objective matter.

Titus 2:1-10 is likewise troublesome.  Insisting upon submissive wives and slaves is indefensible.  If one thinks that Jesus might return during one’s lifetime, one might not argue for social reform.  God will take care of that, right?  Maybe not!  Besides, do we not still have the moral obligation to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  The epistle dates to the first century C.E.  I am typing this post in  2017, however.  The passage of time has proven the inaccuracy of the expectation that Jesus would return in the first century C.E.

David Ackerman summarizes these two readings as focusing

on ways in which God calls Christians to repent of misusing the Bible to the unjust exclusion and oppression of others.

Beyond the Lectionary (2013), pages 37-38

The lack of faith of certain scribes and Pharisees is evident in Matthew 12, for they request a sign from Jesus.  (Faith requires no signs.)  Our Lord and Savior replies in such a way as to indicate

rejection experienced in death yet God’s victory over it.

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003), page 1768

The possibility of death is evident in Psalm 39.  A sense of awareness of one’s mortality and vulnerability pervades the text.  The author turns to God for deliverance.

Sometimes deliverance from death does not come.  Yet, in God, there is victory over death.

May, via God, there also be an end to

unjust exclusion and oppression of others.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 6, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANKLIN CLARK FRY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA AND THE LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLAUDE OF BESANCON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MONK, ABBOT, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF HENRY JAMES BUCKOLL, AUTHOR AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM KETHE, PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2017/06/06/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-in-lent-ackerman/

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Free to Love in God   1 comment

Apples

Above:   Apples, Currier & Ives, 1868

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZC2-3226

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The Collect:

God of heaven and earth, before the foundation of the universe

and the beginning of time you are the triune God:

Author of creation, eternal Word of salvation, life-giving Spirit of wisdom.

Guide is to all truth by your Spirit, that we may

proclaim all that Christ has revealed and rejoice in the glory he shares with us.

Glory and praise to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 37

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The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 7:1-4

Psalm 124

Ephesians 4:7-16

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…our help is in the name of Yahweh,

who made heaven and earth.

–Psalm 124:8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The main two lections for this day urge the readers to heed God’s wisdom.  Proverbs 7 uses the imagery of binding divine decrees to one’s fingers and writing them on the tablet of one’s heart, even identifying Wisdom as one’s sister and Understanding as one’s kinswoman.  We read in Galatians that St. Paul the Apostle had become vexed by the influence of Judaizers and the willingness of many Christians in that city to heed their words, not his.  They had surrendered their freedom in Christ, the Apostle insisted.  Even keeping the Jewish liturgical calendar was too much for St. Paul.

I, as a historian of religion, know that the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (the old “Southern Presbyterian Church”) of 1899 passed a resolution condemning the religious observance of Christmas and Easter.  I found the text of that resolution on page 430 the journal of that General Assembly:

There us no warrant for the observance of Christmas and Easter as holy days, but rather contrary (see Galatians iv. 9-11; Colossians ii. 16-21), and such observance is contrary to the principles of the Reformed faith, conducive to will-worship, and not in harmony with the simplicity of gospel in Jesus Christ.

I also denounce any such interpretation of that verse, for the rhythms of the liturgical year facilitate my spiritual life and define my three lectionary-based weblogs, including this one.  To focus in Galatians 4:10 outside of its textual, cultural, and historical contexts is to miss the point.

The point is that we, through Christ, are heirs of and members of the household of God.  We are free to love God, love each other in God, and glorify God.  We are free to knock down, not erect, artificial barriers to God–barriers which people have created and maintained for their own purposes, not those of God.  We are free to include those whom God includes, not to exclude them wrongly.  (The wrongly excluded in Galatians 4 were Gentiles.)  We are free to root our identity in God (in whom is our help) alone, not in the fact that we are not like those other people we dislike so much.

That is a teaching I am comfortable calling the apple of my eye.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 26, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALEXANDER OF ALEXANDRIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF EMILY MALBONE MORGAN, FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF THE COMPANIONS OF THE HOLY CROSS

THE FEAST OF FRED ROGERS, EDUCATOR AND U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/devotion-for-monday-after-trinity-sunday-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Building Up Our Neighbors, Part IV   2 comments

Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath--Bartholomeus Breenbergh

Above:  Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath, by Bartholomeus Breenbergh

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven

to be the true bread that gives life to the world.

Give us this bread always,

that he may live in us and we in him,

and that, strengthened by this food,

may live as his body in the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Kings 17:1-16

Psalm 81

Ephesians 5:1-4

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Oh, that my people would listen to me!

that Israel would walk in my ways!

–Psalm 81:13, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Much of Christianity has condemned personal sins (such as swearing, gambling, fornicating, and fighting) exclusively or primarily while justifying oppressive violence and unjust economic systems over time.  One could point to, among other examples, the tradition of Roman Catholic support for feudalism and manorialism then for various dictators (such as Francisco Franco of Spain; at least he was anti-Communist) or to the Lutheran tradition of supporting the state, even when that is dubious.  And Martin Luther (1483-1546) did support the brutal repression of a peasants’ revolt by the German ruler who was protecting his life during the earliest years of the Protestant Reformation.  I cannot forget that fact either.  (To be fair, the Roman Catholic Church has also opposed dictatorships and many German Lutherans opposed the Third Reich.)  I choose to emphasize an example of which many people are unaware.  The Presbyterian Church in the United States, the old “Southern” Presbyterian Church, began in 1861 with a narrow range of moral concerns:  private behavior.  Slavery was not a moral concern fit for the church.  No, that was a matter for governments to address.  This was an example of the “Spirituality of the Church,” one of the biggest cop-outs I have encountered.  In the 1930s part of the left wing of that denomination succeeded in expanding the church’s range of moral concerns to include structural economic inequality, war and peace, et cetera.  In 1954 the Southern Presbyterians became the first U.S. denomination to affirm the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) as consistent with scripture and Christian values.  Much of the right wing of that denomination objected to these changes vocally, even to the point of defending Jim Crow laws in print.  (I have index cards full of evidence.)  Nevertheless, did not Jesus command people to love their neighbors as they love themselves?

“How long will you judge unjustly,

and show favor to the wicked?

Save the weak and the orphan;

defend the humble and the needy;

Rescue the weak and the poor;

deliver them from the power of the wicked….”

–Psalm 82:2-4, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

Sins come in the personal and collective responsibilities, among others.  Infractions of both kinds require confession and repentance, but addressing offenses in the former category is easier than seeking to correct offenses in the latter category.  Focusing on the former primarily or exclusively is, I suppose, a way (albeit an unsuccessful way) to seek to let oneself off the proverbial hook morally.

God commands us to care for people actively and effectively.  Sometimes this occurs on a small scale, as in the pericope from 1 Kings 17.  On other occasions the effort is massive and might even entail resisting unjust laws which place the poor at further disadvantage.  All of these efforts are consistent with the command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 28, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN H. W. STUCKENBERG, LUTHERAN PASTOR AND SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF EDWIN POND PARKER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGARET POLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/devotion-for-monday-after-proper-14-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Building Up Our Neighbors, Part III   2 comments

Virgin with David and Solomon

Above:  The Virgin with David and Solomon

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven

to be the true bread that gives life to the world.

Give us this bread always,

that he may live in us and we in him,

and that, strengthened by this food,

may live as his body in the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Kings 2:1-9

Psalm 34:1-8

Matthew 7:7-11

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Taste and see that the LORD is good;

happy are they who trust in him!

–Psalm 34:8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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King David’s final advice to his son and royal heir, Solomon, disturbs me.  The counsel to obey divine commandments is good, but the elements about killing people detracts from that noble sentiment.  In contrast, after Matthew 7:7-11, where we read that God knows how to bless people, we find the Golden Rule in verse 12.  Smiting people does not constitute obeying the Golden Rule relative to them.  Then again, the theological position of much of the Bible is that Yahweh is the Smiter-in-Chief.

I have strong doses of idealism and realism (not in the Greek philosophical meanings of those words) in my thinking.  Sometimes delivering one person from a dangerous situation entails smiting others, especially when they are unrepentant.  Yet I also understand that God loves everybody and that all people are my neighbors.  Part of the reality of living with flawed human nature is having to make the least bad decisions sometimes.

Nevertheless, to seek to build up as many of our neighbors as possible is a fine ethic by which to live.  It is one which we can accomplish by grace.  We might know that we ought to do it, but being able to follow through successfully is a different matter.  As the former Presbyterian Church in the United States (the “Southern” Presbyterian Church) declared in A Brief Statement of Belief (1962) regarding total depravity:

Sin permeates and corrupts our entire being and burdens us with more and more fear, hostility, guilt, and misery.  Sin operates not only within individuals but also within society as a deceptive and oppressive power, so that even men of good will are unconsciously and unwillingly involved in the sins of society.  Man cannot destroy the tyranny of sin in himself or in his world; his only hope is to be delivered from it by God.

The Confession of Faith of The Presbyterian Church in the United States Together with the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism (Richmond, VA:  The Board of Christian Education, 1965; reprint, 1973), page 332

May we do the best we can, by the grace of God.

MAY 27, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALFRED ROOKER, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST PHILANTHROPIST AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS SISTER, ELIZABETH ROOKER PARSON, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHARLES WILLIAM SCHAEFFER, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, HISTORIAN, THEOLOGIAN, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE DICKINSON, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/devotion-for-saturday-before-proper-14-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Christian Liberty to Love Our Neighbors   3 comments

05791v

Above:  Civil Rights Memorial, Montgomery, Alabama

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-05791

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The Collect:

O God, we thank you for your Son,

who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world.

Humble us by his example,

point us to the path of obedience,

and give us strength to follow your commands,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 46

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 14:13-18 (Thursday)

Jeremiah 15:1-9 (Friday)

Jeremiah 15:10-14 (Saturday)

Psalm 26:1-8 (All Days)

Ephesians 5:1-6 (Thursday)

2 Thessalonians 2:7-12 (Friday)

Matthew 8:14-17 (Saturday)

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I will wash my hands in innocence, O Lord,

that I may go about your altar,

To make heard the voice of thanksgiving

and tell of all your wonderful deeds.

Lord, I love the house of your habitation

and the place where your glory abides.

–Psalm 26:6-8, Common Worship (2000)

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Christian liberty is the freedom to follow Christ without the shackles of legalism.  All the Law of Moses and the Prophets point to the love of God and one’s fellow human beings, our Lord and Savior said.  Rabbi Hillel, dead for about two decades at the time, would have continued that teaching with

Everything else is commentary.  Go and learn it.

Many of those laws contained concrete examples of timeless principles.  A host of these examples ceased to apply to daily lives for the majority of people a long time ago, so the avoidance of legalism and the embrace of serious study of the Law of Moses in historical and cultural contexts behooves one.  St. Paul the Apostle, always a Jew, resisted legalism regarding male circumcision. In my time I hear certain Protestants, who make a point of Christian liberty from the Law of Moses most of the time, invoke that code selectively for their own purposes.  I am still waiting for them to be consistent –to recognize the hypocrisy of such an approach, and to cease from quoting the Law of Moses regarding issues such as homosexuality while ignoring its implications for wearing polyester.  I will wait for a long time, I suppose.

My first thought after finishing the readings from Jeremiah was, “God was mad!”  At least that was the impression which the prophet and his scribe, Baruch, who actually wrote the book, left us.  In that narrative the people (note the plural form, O reader) had abandoned God and refused repeatedly to repent–to change their minds and to turn around.  Destruction would be their lot and only a small remnant would survive, the text said.  Not keeping the Law of Moses was the offense in that case.

The crux of the issue I address in this post is how to follow God without falling into legalism.  Whether one wears a polyester garment does not matter morally, but how one treats others does.  The Law of Moses, when not condemning people to death for a host of offenses from working on the Sabbath to engaging in premarital sexual relations to insulting one’s parents (the latter being a crucial point the Parable of the Prodigal Son/Elder Brother/Father), drives home in a plethora of concrete examples the principles of interdependence, mutual responsibility, and complete dependence on God.  These belie and condemn much of modern economic theory and many corporate policies, do they not?  Many business practices exist to hold certain people back from advancement, to keep them in their “places.”  I, without becoming lost in legalistic details, note these underlying principles and recognize them as being of God.  There is a project worth undertaking in the name and love of God.  The working conditions of those who, for example, manufacture and sell our polyester garments are part of a legitimate social concern.

Abstract standards of morality do not move me, except occasionally to frustration.  Our Lord and Savior gave us a concrete standard of morality–how our actions and inactions affect others.  This is a paraphrase of the rule to love one’s neighbor as one loves oneself.  I made this argument in a long and thoroughly documented paper I published online.  In that case I focused on the traditional Southern Presbyterian rule of the Spirituality of the Church, the idea that certain issues are political,  not theological, so the denomination should avoid “political” entanglements.  In 1861 the founders of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America (the Presbyterian Church in the United States from 1865 to 1983) invoked the Spirituality of the Church to avoid condemning slavery, an institution they defended while quoting the Bible.  By the 1950s the leadership of the PCUS had liberalized to the point of endorsing civil rights for African Americans, a fact which vexed the openly segregationist part of the Church’s right wing.  From that corner of the denomination sprang the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in 1973.  This fact has proven embarrassing to many members of the PCA over the years, as it should.  The PCA, to its credit, has issued a pastoral letter condemning racism.  On the other hand, it did so without acknowledging the racist content in the documents of the committee which formed the denomination.

May we, invoking our Christian liberty, seek to love all the neighbors possible as we love ourselves.  We can succeed only by grace, but our willingness constitutes a vital part of the effort.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 19, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT POEMAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINTS JOHN THE DWARF AND ARSENIUS THE GREAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS

THE FEAST OF SAINT AMBROSE AUTPERT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

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

THE FEAST OF SAINT MACRINA THE YOUNGER, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-17-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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

2001-2013 Dutch Reformed

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

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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U.S. DUTCH REFORMED LITURGY, PART VII

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Let us break bread together….

Let us drink wine together….

Let us praise God together….

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

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I.  PREFACE AND INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

II.  THEOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS

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

Ecumenical Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 2002 the CRC Synod approved dialogue with the RCA

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

Acts of Synod, 2002, page 498

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

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

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

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

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

+++

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

+++

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

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

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

+++

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

+++

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

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

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

+++

+++The Roman Catholic Church+++

+++

Vatican Flag

Above:  The Flag of Vatican City

Image in the Public Domain

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

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

+++

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

+++

Burning Bush Logo

Above:  The Burning Bush Logo

Image in the Public Domain

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

+++

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

+++

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

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

+++

+++The Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches+++

+++

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

+++

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

+++

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

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

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

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

+++

+++South Africa+++

+++

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

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

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

Flag of South Africa

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

Image in the Public Domain

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

The Belhar Confession and Its Implications

But let justice roll down like waters,

and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

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

+++

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

+++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and, “as the possession of God,” to

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

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

Jesus is Lord.

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

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

+++

+++Racism and Multiculturalism+++

+++

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

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

+++

+++Gender:   Roles of Women+++

+++

Venus Symbol

Above:  The Venus Symbol (for Females)

Image in the Public Domain

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

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

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

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

This is a good time for numbers:

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

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

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

That report continued, observing that many female ministers still experienced

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

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

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

Acts and Proceedings, page 212

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

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

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

+++

+++Gender:  Homosexuality and Homophobia+++

+++

Marriage Equality

Above:  The Marriage Equality Sign

Found in many places on the Internet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acts and Proceedings, page 105

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++

+++Economic Justice+++

+++

Thus says the LORD:

For three transgressions of Israel,

and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,

because they sell the righteous for silver,

and the needy for a pair of sandals–

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

and push the afflicted out of the way….

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

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

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

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apotheosis-of-war

Above:  The Apotheosis of War, By Vasily Vereshchagin

Image in the Public Domain

+++

+++War and Peace+++

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

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

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

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

Agenda for Synod, page 382-382

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

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

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

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

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

Torture Is a Moral Issue

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

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

Acts and Proceedings, 2008, page 230

Flag of Israel

Above:  The Flag of the State of Israel

Image in the Public Domain

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

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

The General Synod approved the report.

Flag of the Palestinian National Authority

Above:  The Flag of the Palestinian National Authority

Image in the Public Domain

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III.  WORSHIP AND LITURGY

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

Diversity and Theology of Worship

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

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

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

+++

+++Pentecostalism+++

+++

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

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

+++

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

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

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

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

Non-Denominational

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

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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

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

From which translation?

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

73% of congregations reported extemporaneous prayers.

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

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

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

Does the minister wear a robe?

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

Are there paraments?

  1. Yes–68.5%
  2. No–31.5%

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

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

Are there banners?

  1. Yes–73.5%
  2. No–26.5%

Which seasons of the church year do congregations observe?

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

80.3% of congregations reported using praise choruses.

Which creed(s) do congregations use in worship?

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

Regional differences became clear:

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

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

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+++Bible Translations+++

+++

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

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Forms

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

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

Methodist-Presbyterian

Above:  My Copies of These Books

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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+++Reformed Ecumenicity in Liturgy+++

+++

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

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

+++

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

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

Acts and Proceedings, pages 278-288

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Relationship Between Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

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

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

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

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Infant Baptism and Infant Dedication

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

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

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

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

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

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Hymnals

+++

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

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

Lift Up Your Hearts

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

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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

+++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glory to God

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

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

URCNA-OPC

Above:  URCNA and OPC Hymnals

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++

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

+++

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

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

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

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IV.  CONCLUSION

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

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ADDENDUM

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

KRT–AUGUST 29, 2014 C.E.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY OF HARDCOPY SOURCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sing! A New Creation.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2001.

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

Trinity Hymnal.  Philadelphia, PA:  Great Commission Publications, 1961.

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

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

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

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

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

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KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 5, 2014 COMMON ERA

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

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

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

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

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Posted July 5, 2014 by neatnik2009 in Amos 2, Amos 5, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Genesis 1, John 17, Luke 6, Moravian (General), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Predecessors, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Predecessors' Offshoots, Reformed (General), United Church of Christ

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