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“God of Our Fathers”: The Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America, 1914-1945   16 comments

Psalter 1914-1927 and Psalter Hymnal 1934

Above:  My Copies of The Psalter (1914/1927) and the Psalter Hymnal (1934)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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U.S. DUTCH REFORMED LITURGY, PART IV

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God of our fathers, whose almighty hand

Leads forth in beauty all the starry band

Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies,

Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.

–David C. Roberts, “God of Our Fathers,” 1876; from Psalter Hymnal (1934)

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I.  PREFACE AND INTRODUCTION

This series of blog posts, which I predict will run its immediate course in eight installments, with potential for a ninth eventually, has become quite involved–more so than I had thought previously.  That is fine; I am not complaining, for I have been learning much while preparing Parts IV and V and sketching the broad parameters of Parts VI and VII.  The intellectual pleasure of learning so much so quickly has been rapturous for me.  Yes, I am a geek–indeed, a nerd–and a proud one at that.  I like my brain.

One of my undergraduate education professors at Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia, in the 1990s told our class that students need hooks onto which to hang details.  I have tried to follow that advice well in a series of classrooms.  And I adhere to it now.  So, with that segue accomplished, here are your proverbial hooks, O reader:

  1. The Reformed Church in America (RCA) remained Americanized and, on the official level at least, favorable to ecumenical engagement.  This commitment was evident liturgically in The Hymnal of the Reformed Church (1920), a joint project with the (German) Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS).
  2. The Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA or just CRC) became more Americanized from 1914 to 1945, partly because of the domestic and foreign experiences of World War I.  The denomination remained strongly culturally isolationist for much of the period, though.  And it retained its status as a bulwark of very conservative Calvinism.  Nevertheless, the CRCNA was insufficiently right-wing for those who seceded in 1926 to form the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA).  Despite its conservatism, the CRCNA did liberalize sufficiently to reverse its traditional Psalms-only rule for the majority of the denomination, in which pockets of hymn-singing had existed with Synodical approval since the 1880s.
  3. The RCA and the CRCNA, parent and breakaway child, have long had a non-hostile relationship on the official level.  The two have exchanged fraternal greetings annually at CRCNA Synods and RCA General Synods for a long time.  Nevertheless, the two have not traveled the same path for most of the time since the CRCNA broke away in 1857, hence the long separation.  By the end of World War II the RCA and the CRCNA, although still far apart on many issues, were closer than they were at the start of World War I.

II.  CULTURAL CONSIDERATIONS, DENOMINATIONAL AND OTHERWISE

Liturgy is an extension of theology.  For example, whether one sings Psalms and hymns or just Psalms in church is a theological decision.  Liturgy also occurs in the contexts of culture and history.  Thus I must establish the contexts of liturgical decisions and patterns first if I am to adhere to the optimum policy.

World War I and Postwar Disillusionment

President Woodrow Wilson (in office 1913-1921) was reluctant to take the United States into World War I (1914-1918).  This raised the ire and scorn of former President Theodore Roosevelt (in office 1901-1909), who accused the incumbent of cowardice.  (Roosevelt ceased to extol the manly virtues of the war after he lost a son to it, but that is another story.)  Wilson won a second term narrowly in 1916, largely on the fact he had kept the nation out of the war.  Ironically, he led the United States into that conflict formally in the second month of that second term.  Reasons included a German threat to the territorial integrity of the country as well as serious financial considerations, such as the fates of historic trading partners in Europe.  The charges of a “capitalists’ war” were not entirely unfounded, even if they were overly simplistic.

The President, who had warned prior to April 1917 that U.S. entry into war would lead to many people forgetting that there had ever been such a thing as tolerance, embraced such intolerance once the nation had gone to war.  Nonviolent critics broke the law by engaging in activities such as giving speeches and distributing leaflets or attempting to do so.  Thus they violated statutes, which Wilson had signed into law, and went to federal prison.  The U.S. Supreme Court upheld these convictions, but President Warren G. Harding (in office 1921-1923) exercised his power of the pardon generously, much to chagrin of the right wing of his Republican Party.  The founding of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was no accident, given the many violations of civil liberties in the United States during the war and shortly thereafter.

The intolerance extended to state laws, urban ordinances, and mob actions.  One man faced persecution under the Minnesota Espionage Act because he criticized a woman who was knitting socks for soldiers.

No soldier ever sees these socks,

he had said.  It was an unkind comment, but was it a criminal offense?  The City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, banned performances of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven, who had died in 1827.  Was a man who had been dead for nine decades and who had in life opposed the imperialistic policies of Napoleon Bonaparte supporting the Kaiser’s war effort?  And many Christians who worshiped in the German language had to contend with intimidation and vandalism.  During this time many Lutherans made a rapid transition to worshiping in English.  What became of freedom in the land of the free?

The CRCNA, which offered few English-language services on any given Sunday in 1915, also accelerated its use of English in worship due to pressures from jingoists, vandals, and state laws.  Some states, such as Iowa, outlawed preaching in Dutch.  And vandals attacked parochial schools, alleging that they were somehow Prussian.  The denomination’s position on World War I did not help matters when many people lost their minds, rallied around the flag, and renamed German names of dog breeds and food products.  In an age of Liberty Hounds (Dachshunds), Alsacian Shepherds (German Shepherds), and Liberty Cabbage (Sauerkraut) the CRCNA’s stance that the war was (a) evidence of total depravity and (b) God’s punishment on the U.S.A. for national sins aroused much ire outside the denomination.

Wilson oversold the war.  It was “the war to make the world safe for democracy,” allegedly.  Postwar realities, being grim, especially in Europe, inspired widespread disillusionment, as in the literary Lost Generation.  In this context the RCA, which had once considered World War I a holy war, learned a harsh lesson and backed down from its gung ho stance.  At the same time, however, the CRCNA learned a different harsh lesson and began to move away from its culturally isolationist position under pressure from returning veterans who belonged to the denomination.  When the U.S. entered World War II formally in 1941, the CRCNA was gung ho and the RCA supported the war effort without resorting to grandiose language.

Confessional Calvinism, Common Grace, and the Christian Reformed Church in North America

Two sides in the three-way disagreement over the Kuyperian Paradox locked horns within the CRCNA in the 1920s.  The Antitheticals, who favored Christian separatism, had lost the argument at the Synod of 1906, where the Confessionalists had won.  The two sides joined forces to oppose Calvin Theological Seminary professor Ralph Janssen, whom they accused of liberalism, and therefore heresy, because he had incorporated higher criticism into his Biblical studies.  These critics won at the Synod of 1922, which removed Janssen from his post.  Two years later, however, the CRC Synod made affirmation of Abraham Kuyper‘s later Common Grace theological stance mandatory for pastors.  That position held that even the unredeemed could function as God’s instruments.  In 1924-1925 the Reverend Herman Hoekstra and others refused to obey.  These Antitheticals seceded instead and formed the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA).

Ecumenism

The RCA was, at least officially, enthusiastic about ecumenism.  It had become, for example, a charter member of both the American Bible Society (1816) and the Federal Council of Churches (1908).  The RCA considered itself a mainline denomination, albeit a fairly conservative one.  Yet even this position proved too liberal for much of its Midwestern and Western constituency, which was generally suspicious of social progressivism, membership in church councils, and plans to merge with other denominations.

There was more than one unsuccessful merger proposal involving the RCA from 1914 to 1945.  The first was a plan to merge the RCA and the (German) Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) in the 1910s.  The only fruit this tree bore was The Hymnal of the Reformed Church (1920), a joint project of the two bodies.  The RCUS, by the way, went on to merge in 1934 with the Evangelical Synod of North America (ESNA), of Prussian Lutheran-Reformed heritage, to form the Evangelical and Reformed Church (ERC).  The ERC’s legacy became part of the history of the United Church of Christ (UCC) in 1957.  Thus the 1920 Hymnal of the Reformed Church preceded two streams of successors:

  1. The Hymnbook (1955), Rejoice in the Lord (1985), and Lift Up Your Hearts (2013), the RCA lineage; and
  2. The Hymnal (1941), The Hymnal of the United Church of Christ (1974), and The New Century Hymnal (1995), the Evangelical and Reformed Church-United Church of Christ lineage.

The second plan, which began in the late 1920s, was to merge five denominations:

  1. The Reformed Church in America (RCA);
  2. The Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS);
  3. The Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), the old “Southern Presbyterian Church;”
  4. The Presbyterian Church in then U.S.A. (PCUSA), the old “Northern Presbyterian Church” (a misleading label since it was a national body; and
  5. The United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA), whose Psalters the CRCNA and parts thereof had adapted.

The plan failed on several fronts as denominations removed themselves from it.  The 1931 Southern Presbyterian General Assembly, citing questions of race and alleged doctrinal unsoundness in the PCUSA, withdrew, for example.  And an attempt to expand the union into a six-way arrangement including the CRCNA failed in 1930, when the CRC Synod declined, citing doctrinal concerns regarding the other five bodies.  These issues included Modernism, alleged laxity in church discipline, and permissive policies regarding membership in secret societies, such as the Masonic Lodge.

Of the five denominations only the RCA still exists.  The United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA) merged with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA) to create the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA) in 1958.  The UPCUSA and the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) reunited in 1983 to form the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PC(USA)].  And the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) merged into the Evangelical and Reformed Church (1934-1957).  The current body which bears the RCUS name is a rump of the original denomination.

The CRCNA also contained a large number of people wary of membership in church councils.  It had joined the Federal Council of Churches in 1918, for the FCC was the only agency which placed military chaplains at the time.  Yet concerns about Modernism led the CRCNA to withdraw from the Federal Council in 1924.  The denomination became a charter member of the anti-Modernist National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) in 1943.  Nevertheless, a vocal CRCNA constituency, objecting to such close work with Arminians and Fundamentalists and concerned about the allegedly detrimental effect it had on the CRCNA’s Reformed witness, succeeded in prompting the denomination’s withdraw from the NAE in 1951.

Worldly Amusements

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

A:  It might lead to dancing.

–An old joke

Hostility to “worldly amusements” has long been a characteristic of certain varieties of conservative Protestantism.  I have read such condemnations in the sermon notes of my great-grandfather, George Washington Barrett (1873-1956), and old-style Southern Methodist.  And stories of Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and other types of churches calling members to account for dancing, hosting dances, attending fairs, and/or playing card games from the 1800s to the 1900s are numerous.  Such hostility was also present in Dutch Reformed enclaves in the Midwest and present in both the RCA and the CRCNA.  The latter, however, unlike the former, made such hostility denominational policy in the twentieth century.

The theological principle of separation from the world (not being conformed to it), not to mention the insertion of long poles far into many spiritual large intestines, informed the condemnation of “worldly amusements.”  (How could some of these people sit down comfortably or at all?)  Thus, in the case of the CRCNA, the ruling that no member should play cards, attend movies, or dance became not just a recommendation but a piece of obligatory guidance.  As the Reverend Doctor Peter Y. De Jong wrote:

Because these principles are solidly grounded on Scripture, they must be heartily believed and conscientiously practiced by all of our members.  Such spiritual practice is far richer than refraining from sin because the church requires it.  In the light of these every Christian who prayerfully considers any problem can come to full light.  Only then will our spiritual life be full and rich and deep, which is pleasing to our faithful Covenant God and Father.

The Christian Reformed Church:  A Study Guide, Centennial Edition, 1956; reprint, 1964; page 81

I will return to this matter in subsequent posts.

III.  PSALTERS AND HYMNALS

The Christian Reformed Church in North America:  From Dutch to English–The Psalter (1914)

The liturgical transformation within the CRCNA proved difficult for many people.  By 1940, however, English was nearly universal in the denomination, which had lost some members to the process.  The Psalter (1914) was far from popular in some quarters of the CRCNA.  Henry Vander Werp, a CRCNA alternate to the committee which had created The New Metrical Version of the Psalms (1905 and 1909), the basis of the United Presbyterian Psalter (1912), itself the basis of the CRCNA Psalter (1914), had created a Psalter of his own.  It retained more content from the Genevan Psalter (1563) and less from The New Metrical Version than did The Psalter (1914).  The Synod of 1912 rejected an overture to adopt his Psalter, justifying the decision by citing the fact that it was the work of one man.

The Psalter (1914) broke with CRC tradition in ways other than the obvious:  the exclusive use of English.

  1. It introduced different patterns of meter to the CRCNA.  Traditional Dutch meters kept the Psalms intact and applied a variety of meters and rhyme patterns to them.  Scottish Presbyterian meters, however, divided the Psalms into segments, thereby applying more than one versification to some texts.
  2. It also replaced many traditional melodies with tunes new to the CRCNA.  Only two Genevan Psalter tunes remained in the new Psalter.  The transition proved easier for the young than for the elderly.

The Psalter (1914), reprinted with the 1920 translation of the Church Order in 1927, contained rituals and other important documents in the back:

  1. The Heidelberg Catechism;
  2. The Belgic Confession of Faith;
  3. The Canons of Dort;
  4. The Liturgy;
  5. The Church Order; and
  6. The Formula of Subscription to the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession of Faith, and the Canons of Dort.

The Liturgy contained:

  1. Baptism;
  2. Public Confession of Faith;
  3. The Lord’s Supper;
  4. The Discipline–Excommunication and Readmission of Excommunicated Persons;
  5. Ordination of Ministers of God’s Word;
  6. Ordination of Elders and Deacons;
  7. Installation of Professors of Theology;
  8. Ordination of Missionaries;
  9. Marriage; and
  10. Consolation of the Sick.

These followed the traditional Dutch forms.

The Protestant Reformed Dutch Churches in America (PRCA) continued to use this volume after the CRCNA adopted the Psalter Hymnal (1934).  The liturgical forms available at the PRCA’s website in 2014 are nearly identical to those in the back of The Psalter (1914).

The Christian Reformed Church in North America:  Uniform Orders of Worship (1920-1930)

The European Reformed churches of the Protestant Reformation were liturgical, complete with service books and forms of worship.  This well-attested fact constituted news–irrelevant at best and unpleasant at worst–to many U.S. members of Reformed churches in the 1800s and 1900s.  That statement applies also to many of the U.S. Reformed in 2014.  Sometimes the tradition to which people cling is of more recent vintage than the alleged innovations to which they object.  So which one is the innovation?  The reality of Continental Reformed liturgical history did not, however, trouble the members of the CRCNA committee which produced three uniform orders of worship in time for the CRC Synod of 1920, which made them mandatory.  The Acts of Synod (1920), pages 185-204 contains the full orders with interesting explanatory notes.

The order of worship for the first (morning) service was as follows:

  1. The Introductory Service–The service opened with the Votum (Psalm 124:8) then continued with the Salutation (Romans 1:7) before leading into a Psalm of gratitude.
  2. The Service of Reconciliation–The confession of sin and absolution, parts of Protestant Reformation-era Reformed liturgies, were present.  They proved especially controversial due to rampant anti-Roman Catholicism, however.  The order of service specified forms for the invitation, the confession, and the absolution.  The Apostles’ Creed and the Psalm of praise followed.
  3. The Service of Thanksgiving–A general prayer, concluded with the Lord’s Prayer, led into the Offering, then a Psalm of thanksgiving.
  4. The Service of the Lord–There was no responsive reading, for the committee deemed that practice to be primarily a way of maintaining interest among members of the congregation.  Thus the minister, representing God at the church service, read a portion of Scripture.  Then the sermon followed.
  5. The Closing Service–A prayer, a Psalm or the Doxology or both, and the Benediction closed the service.

The other two orders of worship were quite similar to the first.  At the second (evening) service there was no Service of Reconciliation and the Decalogue moved into the Service of Thanksgiving.  The third order of worship, just for

Christmas, Old Year, New Year, Good Friday, and Ascension Day

Acts of Synod, 1920, page 199,

also omitted the Service of Reconciliation.  The third order of worship lacked the Decalogue, however.

These orders of worship became quite controversial, so the Synod of 1930 removed the absolution and made the orders optional.

The Christian Reformed Church in North America:  Singing Hymns

The practice of singing Psalms–yet not hymns, allegedly the compositions of sinful men and women and therefore unworthy, as the traditionalist Reformed criticism describes them–used to be more commonplace in the Reformed world.  In 2014 some denominations retain the practice, but most sing hymns.  Objections to the singing of hymns in the RCA helped to form the rationales for the Secessions of 1834 (in The Netherlands) and 1857 (in the United States), thus they were among the justifications for the founding of the CRCNA.  Nevertheless, that denomination, from the middle 1880s forward, did not adhere strictly to the practice of singing only Psalms.

At first the CRCNA permitted groups with joined the denomination to continue their practice of singing hymns.  As I wrote in Part III of this series, some German-speaking congregations affiliated in the 1880s and English-speaking churches joined in 1890.  The Germans continued to sing their 355 hymns in addition to the 150 Psalms and Classis Hackensack kept singing its 190 hymns plus the 150 Psalms.  It even modified The Psalter (1914) to include its 190 hymns.  The camel’s nose was already inside the tent.

For the majority of the CRCNA, however, hymns were forbidden in worship.  Article 69 of the Church Order (1920 translation) read:

In the Churches only the 150 Psalms of David, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Twelve Articles of Faith, the Songs of Mary, Zacharias, and Simeon, the Morning and Evening Hymns, and the Hymn of Prayer before the sermon shall be sung.

Nevertheless, many young members of the CRCNA favored singing hymns by 1918.  The Synod of 1928 appointed a committee to study the issue.  That group, which favored hymn-singing, issued its report two years later.  In 1932 the CRCNA modified Article 69 of the Church Order to permit the singing of hymns throughout the denomination.

The Christian Reformed Church in North America:  Psalter Hymnal (1934)

Psalter Hymnal (1934) was a landmark worship resource for the CRCNA.  It both reached back into the denomination’s tradition and paved the way for changes.  On one hand Psalter Hymnal (1934) included more Genevan Psalter (1563) tunes than did The Psalter (1914), but on the other hand it opened the flood gates for hymn-singing to become more popular than Psalm-singing in the CRCNA.  The new hymnal emphasized the Psalms, which comprised 295 of its 458 musical offerings.  There were 140 hymns familiar to members of other denominations.  A few these songs were:

  1. O Worship the King;
  2. Now Thank We All Our God;
  3. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel;
  4. Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing;
  5. Silent Night! Holy Night!;
  6. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross;
  7. The Church’s One Foundation; and
  8. Abide With Me.

The standards for selecting hymns were:

doctrinal soundness, New Testament character, dignity and depth of devotional spirit, and clearness and beauty of expression.

Psalter Hymnal (1934), page iii

Much of the material in the back of the volume was similar to that in the rear of The Psalter (1914), the main difference being a revision in the English translation.  There were more offerings, though.

  1. The Three Ecumenical Creeds–Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian–were present.
  2. There was also a treasury of Christian prayers.

Also, the 1914 forms for the ordination of Ministers and Missionaries became forms for the ordination or installation thereof.

Psalter Hymnal (1934) stood in lineage with Psalter Hymnal (1959/1976), Psalter Hymnal (1987), and Lift Up Your Hearts (2013), books I will analyze in subsequent posts.

The Reformed Church in America:  The Hymnal of the Reformed Church (1920)

The history of hymnals in the RCA has proven to be more complicated than in the CRCNA.  Prior to The Hymnal of the Reformed Church (1920) the last official hymnal had been Hymns of the Church (1869), almost a carbon copy of the Anglican Hymns, Ancient and Modern (1861).  This Anglican-Reformed approach met with the disapproval of much of the RCA, which convinced successive General Synods to approve the use of third-party hymnals.  Thus the RCA, despite having a series of official hymn books, has long experienced a plethora of hymnals in use on the congregational level.

The Hymnal of the Reformed Church (1920) was a joint project with the (German) Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS).  It started as a revision of The Hymnal of the Reformed Church in the United States (1890) in 1911, but the committee decided to try to make the new book an ecumenical venture.  The RCA General Synod of 1912 accepted the invitation to participate in the project, and the rest was history.  The joint committee wrote in the 1920 Hymnal:

Our purpose has been to lead congregations in every way possible in a more heartfelt worship in all Church services, and a more general participation in congregational singing.

The organization of the 700+ hymns was topical, not pegged to the Heidelberg Catechism, as early RCA hymnals had been.  And the RCA Liturgy was present in the RCA edition.

The Hymnal of the Reformed Church, in the RCA, preceded three other official hymnals.

  1. The Hymnbook (1955) was a joint project with 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).
  2. Rejoice in the Lord (1985), a solely RCA project, sold better outside the denomination than within it.  In fact, only seven percent of RCA congregations adopted it.  My copy of the hymnal bears the imprint of a congregation of the United Church of Christ.
  3. Lift Up Your Hearts (2013) is a joint project with the CRCNA.

Those, however, are topics I will explore in subsequent posts in this series.

IV.  CONCLUSION

Disagreements within denominations are frequently more important than those between or among them.  The Reformed Church in America (RCA) and the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) experienced 1914-1945 differently yet with some similarity.  Both had warring wings, for example.  The RCA, though, kept its wings in balance until immediately after World War II, when Part V of this series will begin.  In contrast, the more conservative, culturally isolationist wing of the CRCNA began to lose power to relatively progressive elements.  Nevertheless, the denomination forbade dancing from 1928 to 1982 and attending movies from 1928 to 1966. So we know that its culturally isolationist wing retained some power for a long time, despite the vocal and repeated protests of dissidents, who had entered the twentieth century mentally.  The CRCNA moved forward and backward from 1914 to 1945.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY OF HARDCOPY SOURCES

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

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.

De Jong, Peter Y.  The Christian Reformed Church:  A Study Manual.  Centennial Edition.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Book House, 1956.  Reprint, 1964.

Haeussler, Armin.  The Story of Our Hymn:  The Handbook to the Hymnal of the Evangelical and Reformed Church.  St. Louis, MO:  Eden Publishing House, 1952.

Hall, Kermit L., et al., eds.  American Legal History:  Cases and Materials. 2d. Ed.  New York, NY:  Oxford University Press, 1996.

The Hymnal; Containing Complete Orders of Worship.  St. Louis, MO:  Eden Publishing House, 1941.

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

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

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

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

The New Century Hymnal.  Cleveland, OH:  Pilgrim Press, 1995.

The Psalter, Doctrinal Standards, Liturgy, and Church Order of the Christian Reformed Church in America.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eeerdmans Publishing Company, 1927.

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, 1934.

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.

The Psalter Hymnal:  The Psalms and Selected Hymns.  Pittsburgh, PA:  The United Presbyterian Board of Publication and Bible School Work, 1927.

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

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.

Thompson, Ernest Trice.  Presbyterians in the South.  Volume Three.  1890-1972.  Richmond, VA:  John Knox Press, 1973.

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KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 6, 2014 COMMON ERA

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

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

THE FEAST OF INI KOPURIA, FOUNDER OF THE MELANESIAN BROTHERHOOD

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM KETHE, PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

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Joint Baptist-Disciples of Christ Hymnals   5 comments

Christian Worship

Above:  My Copies of Christian Worship:  A Hymnal (1941) and Hymnbook of Christian Worship (1970)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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My knowledge of denominational hymnals beyond my own turf has expanded greatly over the years.  One day on which it expanded came during the Summer of 1992, during my time as a student at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton, Georgia.  My mother was nearing the end of her time as a student at Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia.  I visited her one week that Summer, when she lived at the Presbyterian Student Center just off campus.  We spent part of days that week volunteering at an ecumenical Vacation Bible School hosted by First Christian Church.  The two Lutheran congregations (one Missouri Synod, the other Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), the three Episcopal churches, and the Disciples of Christ congregation cooperated on this effort.  There I found in an open room–yet not in any pew–a copy of Hymnbook for Christian Worship (1970).  (I recall that the hymnal in the pews was the Gaither Hymns for the Family of God, 1976).  I was intrigued with the hymnbook not in the pews.  Eventually I found my own copy in a thrift store.

From the 1930s to the early 1950s the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Northern Baptist Convention (from 1950 to 1972 the American Baptist Convention) pondered merging.  They had much in common, given the Disciples’ position between the Baptist and Presbyterian positions and the Disciples’ practice of baptizing by immersion.  The Christian Century, in its July 22, 1936, issue, editorialized regarding a possible organic union.  The editorial, which discussed baptismal theology, concluded:

What really keeps Baptists and Disciples apart and, in the main, keeps all Protestant denominations apart, is not actual present differences but hangover attitudes developed in the day when there were differences.  Though difficult to define, these are very real obstacles to union.  There are also institutional obstacles of a more substantial nature.  Organizations and agencies have been built up at a great cost of effort and money.  These vested interests are the objects of a kind of family or tribal pride on the part of each denomination.  This pride is fostered by the large and influential secretariat  which has charge of the sacred vessels of the Lord.  Unless there is a conscience on Christian unity, some vivid sense of the sin of being Baptists or Disciples, or anything else than Christians, there is no hope of overcoming the inertia of the status quo.

Union between Baptists and Disciples is both desirable and possible.  No one wishes to rush it, and it will doubtless be years before the natural processes that make for unification can work out their full effect.  Perhaps the most that can be done now is to realize that these processes are natural and that the end is both desirable and possible.

But if the ultimate merging of Baptists and Disciples were to be considered as creating an immersionist bloc, as giving renewed emphasis to a single ordinance, and as producing a deeper cleavage between immersionist and non-immersionist bodies, its injuries would far outweigh its benefits.  To make this one practice which the two denominational bodies have in common the bond of unity between them would be to make it afresh a divisive issue in the Christian world.  The attainment of a larger fellowship does not lie in that direction.  When Baptists and Disciples unite, they should do so upon the realization that they are both free peoples giving liberty within their ranks for a wide variety of individual opinion and local congregational practice.  Most of their congregations practice immersion, but not all of them insist upon it.  The fact that the practice is general among them and that it has been prominent in their history gives them a feeling of kinship, but it is not the true ground for union between them, as it is not the ground of their present denominational unity.

To unite immersionists against the world would be a calamity to the Christian cause.  To unite Baptists and Disciples on the ground of their common faith, purpose and liberty would be a step toward still wider union on the same basis.  For the essential things that Baptists and Disciples have in common are not their exclusive possession.

The two groups did not merge, obviously, but they did produce two joint hymnals.  The first was Christian Worship:  A Hymnal (1941).

Christian Worship A Hymnal

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

It was, like many hymnals of its generation, classy–emphasizing the quality of hymn texts and a degree of formality of worship.  As the Preface said in part:

It [the hymnal] will be adaptable to the more dignified and formal worship of the stately church and to the simple service of the less pretentious.

My experience with the book has been positive, for I have located some wonderful hymns here, having not found them in any other hymnal in my collection.  This has proven quite helpful to the pursuit of one of my hobbies.

Hymnbook for Christian Worship

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Less successful, my Internet research has indicated, was the 1970 follow-up, Hymnbook for Christian Worship (1970), which was more formal than many of its contemporaries in mainline Protestantism.  Whereas the 1941 hymnal had limited worship resources (just responsive readings, some invocations, a few Scriptural selections for baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and a page of benedictions), the 1970 volume offered Scriptural readings for Adoration and Praise, a collection of litanies, pages of Affirmations of Faith, Prayers of Worship, some Psalms, and Biblical excerpts arranged topically:  Offering, The Lord’s Supper, Baptism, and Benedictions.  Archaic language remained, for God was often “Thee.”  Hymnbook for Christian Worship was a volume which reflected a previous age in a time of rapid change.  Sometimes its stylistic conservatism was justified, especially given certain excesses of innovative worship in the 1960s and 1970s.  Yet it, like its Presbyterian contemporary, The Worshipbook, showed its age rapidly–yet in a different way.  The former was nouveau; the latter was ancien.

Subsequent denominational developments in worship have revealed that Hymnbook for Christian Worship was a dead end.  The American Baptists have not authorized a hymnal since 1970.  Their congregations use a range of hymnbooks.  The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) published Chalice Hymnal (1995) and Chalice Worship (1997).  The former, unfortunately, has been out of print for a few years.  Yesterday morning, while not even looking for it, I found a copy of Chalice Praise (2003) at a thrift store.  Editor David P. Polk, in A Word to Worshipers, wrote:

You hold in your hands not just another supplement to a recent hymnal.  This set of musical resources for the church’s worship is a different type of collection.  It specifically offers a gathering together of the best and often the freshest of songs that characterize contemporary Christian music.

–page vi

That last sentence is oxymoronic.

Christian Worship:  A Hymnal (1941) and Hymnbook for Christian Worship (1970) are volumes I am glad to have in my hymnal collection, for I consult them while conducting research into hymnody.  I am, with regard to hymnody, much like the archaeologist of a certain joke; the older his wife became, the more interesting he found her.  Chalice Praise (2003), however, reminds me of what Thomas Day, in the subtitle to his book, Why Catholics Can’t Sing (1990), called

the triumph of bad taste

Why is bad taste so ubiquitous?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 29, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LYDIA, DORCAS, AND PHOEBE, COWORKERS OF THE APOSTLE PAUL

THE FEAST OF ANDREI RUBLEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ICONOGRAPHER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS GENESIUS I OF CLERMONT AND PRAEJECTUS OF CLERMONT, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; AND SAINT AMARIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT GILDAS THE WISE, HISTORIAN AND ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

Ventures of Which We Cannot See the Ending: Reflections on U.S. Lutheran Liturgy   5 comments

Books about Worship

Above:  Six of My Books about Liturgy, July 27, 2013

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U.S. LUTHERAN LITURGY, PART XXI

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O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.  Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 304

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Father Peter C. Ingeman, the recently-retired Rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta, Georgia, has said that anyone who worships regularly at a church with predictable order of worship attends a liturgical church.  Some orders of worship are more intricate than others, but they are inherently liturgical, even if, as in some especially bad U.S. Lutheran services from the 1800s, the primary or only role for the congregation is to sing hymns.

I have had some unfortunate and unpleasant encounters with people who have mistaken the simplicity of worship for the purity thereof.  Most of these have been Southern Baptists, actually.  So I am glad to read in Christian Worship:  Its Theology and Practice, by Franklin M. Segler (1967), that the author, a Southern Baptist minister (deceased now) does not fall into the false dichotomy of simple worship vs. insincere ritualism.  Yet I recognize that he, especially in his last chapter, dismisses ritualism.

I am, however, an unapologetic ritualist.  Ritualism creates the worship environment in which I feel in my soul most deeply and ineffably the words of Psalm 84:

How lovely is your dwelling place,

O LORD of hosts!

My soul longs, yes, faints

for the courts of the LORD;

my heart and flesh sing for joy

to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home,

and the swallow a nest for herself,

where she may lay her young,

at your altars, O LORD of hosts,

my King and my God.

Blessed are those who dwell in your house,

ever singing your praise!

Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

Good ritual–especially in the context of ritualism–is a lovely spiritual practice.  This is especially true when the congregation has much to do, as in most rewritten U.S. Lutheran liturgies from about 1860 forward.  So most U.S. Lutheran denominations deserve much credit for this reality of their service books.

Uniformity need not be a goal of service books, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg’s dream of one church and one book not withstanding.  The Common Service, in its variations, one far superior to most of what preceded it.  But there is also much worth in other Lutheran liturgies old and new.  Perhaps it is time for U.S. Lutheran scholars to begin to develop a Revised Common Service to take its place beside the 1888 liturgies and their variations.  There are certainly many meritorious rituals from which to draw inspiration and texts.

Liturgy is a product of theology, hence arguments about the contents of Creeds, for example.  Did Jesus descend into hell or merely to the dead?  Is the Church “Christian,” “Catholic,” or “catholic” in the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds?  And how often should the congregation take Communion?  Also germane to these matters are folkways, which influence opinions regarding the language of worship and order of its elements.

Thus much arguing over words and orders of worship ensues.  A tradition is neither inherently good nor bad because it is old, just as innovation is neither inherently good nor bad because it is new.  Elements of liturgy now quite old used to be new.  Faddish language in late 1960s and early 1970s liturgies did not age well, but addressing God with the familiar “you” instead of “Thee” is consistent with the spirit of the development of language.  In English, for example, everybody used to be “Thee,” so to address God as “you” these days constitutes a return to previous practice.  And, as Philip H. Pfatteicher writes:

The church needed by trial and occasional error to come to understand that the new is not always found in opposition to the old as its natural growth and development.  Stability and continuity are essential elements of catholic Christianity.

Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship:  Lutheran Liturgy in Its Ecumenical Context (1990), page 10

Thus U.S. Lutheran denominations have mixed the old with the new.  Even ultra-conservative Lutheran synods which make The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) look like a pack of wild-eyed liberals have published hymnals-service books in contemporary English, as have the LCMS and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which ultra conservative synods think is really a pack of wild-eyed liberals.

Unfortunately, one tendency which crosses liberal-conservative lines is bad contemporary worship.  Last year, during an ecumenical visit to an ELCA congregation, I noticed an announcement on a bulletin board.  The church was planning to add a praise band to one service.  And, about nine years ago, when I thought that I might attend the University of Florida, I looked up websites for Episcopal congregations in Gainesville.  I knew that I would never attend the one which, on its service roster, listed the person in charge of overhead transparencies.  The probability that people were posting the words to “I Bind Unto Myself Today the Strong Name of the Trinity,” which takes three pages in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982, were very low.  “Seven-eleven songs,” which, as the critique tells us, have seven words which people sing eleven times, are theological tide pools.  Karl Marx’s analysis of religion as the opiate of the masses is an overgeneralization, one which applies well to some aspects of religion, such as praise choruses, and not at all in many others.

The real meat and potatoes of good liturgy and worship is found in excellent history-based form and practice updated occasionally.  The best U.S. Lutheran liturgies of today strike and maintain that balance well.

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KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 28, 2013 COMMON ERA

PROPER 12–THE TENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF THE PIONEERING FEMALE EPISCOPAL PRIESTS, 1974 AND 1975

THE FEAST OF ANTONIO VIVALDI, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH, COMPOSER

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COMPREHENSIVE ACKNOWLEDGMENTS FOR THIS SERIES

Books:

Ambassador Hymnal for Lutheran Worship.  Minneapolis, MN:  Association of Free Lutheran Congregations, 1994.

Bible.  Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition.  2002.

Book of Common Prayer, The.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 1979.  Reprint, 2007.

Book of Common Worship.  Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.

Book of Common Worship, The.  Philadelphia, PA:  Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1906.

Book of Common Worship, The.  Philadelphia, PA:  Board of Christian Education of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, 1946.

Book of Common Worship (Revised), The.  Philadelphia, PA:  Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, 1932.

Book of Hymns.  Milwaukee, WI:  Northwestern Publishing House, 1917.  Reprint, 1932.

Christian Worship:  A Lutheran Hymnal.  Milwaukee, WI:  Northwestern Publishing House, 1993.

Commission on the Liturgy and Hymnal, The.  Service Book and Hymnal.  Music Edition.  Philadelphia, PA:  United Lutheran Publication House, 1958.

Common Service Book of the Lutheran Church.  Philadelphia, PA:  The Board of Publication of The United Lutheran Church in America, 1917, 1918.

Concordia:  A Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs.  Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1917.

Concordia:  The Lutheran Confessions–A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord.  2d. Ed.  Paul Timothy McCain, General Editor.  St. Louis, MO:  Concordia Publishing House, 2006.

Concordia Hymnal, The:  A Hymnal for Church, School and Home.  Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1932.

Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), The.  Part I.  Book of Confessions.  Louisville, KY:  Office of the General Assembly, 1996.

Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary.  St. Louis, MO:  MorningStar Music Publishers, Inc., 1996.

Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America, The.  The Lutheran Hymnal.  St. Louis, MO:  Concordia Publishing House, 1941.

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

Fevold, Eugene L.  The Lutheran Free Church:  A Fellowship of American Lutheran Congregations, 1897-1963.  Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1969.

Hymnal and Order of Service, The.  Lectionary Edition.  Rock Island, IL:  Augustana Book Concern, 1925.

Hymnal for Church and Home.  3d. Ed.  Blair, NE:  Danish Lutheran Publishing House, 1938.

Hymnal Supplement 98.  St. Louis, MO:  Concordia Publishing House, 1998.

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

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

Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship for Provisional Use.  Contemporary Worship 2:  Services–The Holy Communion.  Philadelphia, PA:  Board of Education, Lutheran Church in America, 1970.

Jones, Cheslyn, et al, eds.  The Study of Liturgy.  Revised Edition.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 1992.

Lutheran Hymnary Including the Symbols of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, The.  Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1935.

Lutheran Intersynodical Hymnal Committee.  American Lutheran Hymnal.  Music Edition.  Columbus, OH:  The Lutheran Book Concern, 1930.

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

Lutheran Worship.  St. Louis, MO:  Concordia Publishing House, 1982.

Melton, J. Gordon.  Encyclopedia of American Religions.  4h. Ed.  Washington, DC:  Gale Research, Inc., 1993.

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

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

Pfatteicher, Philip H., and Carlos R. Messerli.  Manual on the Liturgy:  Lutheran Book of Worship.  Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1979.

Reed, Luther D.  The Lutheran Liturgy:  A Study in the Common Service of the Lutheran Church in America.  Philadelphia, PA:  Muhlenberg Press, 1947.

__________.  The Lutheran Liturgy:  A Study in the Common Liturgy of the Lutheran Church in America.  2d. Ed.  Philadelphia, PA:  Fortress Press, 1959.

Segler, Franklin M.  Christian Worship:  Its Theology and Practice.  Nashville, TN:  Broadman Press, 1967.

Stulken, Marilyn Kay.  Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship.  Philadelphia, PA:  Fortress Press, 1981.

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

Wentz, Abdel Ross.  The Lutheran Church in American History.  2d. Ed.  Philadelphia, PA:  The United Lutheran Publication House, 1933.

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

Worship Supplement.  St. Louis, MO:  Concordia Publishing House, 1969.

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

PDFs:

“Ambassador Hymnal for Lutheran Worship.”  Hymnal Sales, Minneapolis, MN.  This is a document designed to convince congregations to purchase the 1994 hymnal.

Association Free Lutheran Bible School, Plymouth, MN.  AFLBS Student Life Guidelines 2009-2010.

__________.  AFLBS Student Life Handbook 2012-2013.

Christian Worship:  Supplement Introductory Resources.  Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, 2008.

DeGarmeaux, Bruce.  ”O Come, Let Us Worship!  A Study of Lutheran Liturgy and Hymnody.”  1995.

Erickson, Anne.  ”God Wants to Help Parents Help Their Kids.”  Pages 8-9 in The Lutheran Ambassador (April 10, 2001).

Faugstad, Peter.  ”Centennial of The Lutheran Hymnary.”  In Lutheran Sentinel, May-June 2013, page 14.

Schalk, Carl.  ”A Brief History of LCMS Hymnals (before LSB).”  Based on a 1997 document; updated to 2006.  Copyrighted by The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

Stuckwisch, D. Richard.  ”The Missouri Synod and the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship.”  Lutheran Forum, Volume 37, Number 3 (Fall 2003), pages 43-51.

Walker, Larry J., Ed.  ”Standing Fast in Freedom.”  2d.  Ed.  Association of Free Lutheran Congregations, 2000.

Zabell, Jon F.  ”The Formation of Function of WELS Hymnals:  Further Conversation.”  For the National Conference of Worship, Music, and the Arts, July 2008.

KRT

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Rituals and Their Value   5 comments

Above:  A Chart of the Western Christian Year

Image Source = Patnac

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Galatians 4:1-5:1 (Revised English Bible):

This is what I mean:  so long as the heir is a minor, he is no better off than a slave, even though the whole estate is his; he is subject to guardians and trustees until the date set by his father.  So it is with us:  during our minority we were slaves, subject to the elemental spirits of the universe, but when the appointed time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to buy freedom for those who were under the law, in order that we might attain the status of sons.

To prove that you are sons, God has sent into our hearts the Spirit of his Son, crying,

Abba, Father!

You are therefore no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, an heir by God’s own act.

Formerly, when you did not now God, you were slaves to gods to gods who are not gods at all.  But now that you do acknowledge God–or rather, now that he has acknowledged you–how can you turn back to those feeble and bankrupt elemental spirits?  Why do you propose to enter their service all over again?  You keep special days and months and seasons and years.  I am afraid that all my hard work on you may have been wasted.

Put yourselves in my place, my friends, I beg you, as I put myself in yours.  You never did me any wrong:  it was bodily illness, as you will remember, that originally led to my bringing you the gospel, and you resisted any temptation to show scorn or disgust at my physical condition; on the contrary you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as you might have welcomed Christ Jesus himself.  What has become of the happiness you felt then?  I believe you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me, had that been possible!  Have I now made myself your enemy by being frank with you?

Others are lavishing attention on you, but without sincerity:  what they really want is to isolate you so that you may lavish attention on them.  To be the object of sincere attentions is always good, and not just when I am with you.  You are my own children, and I am in labour with you all over again until you come to have the form of Christ.  How I wish I could be with you now, for then I could modify my tone; as it is, I am at my wits’ end with you.

Tell me now, you that are so anxious to be under the law, will you not listen to what the law says?  It is written there that Abraham had two sons, the one by a slave, the other by a free-born woman.  The slave’s son was born in ordinary course of nature, but the free woman’s through God’s promise.  This is an allegory:  the two women stand for two covenants.  The one covenant comes from Mount Sinai; that is Hagar, and her children are born into slavery.  Sinai is a mountain in Arabia and represents the Jerusalem of today, for she and her children are in slavery.  But the heavenly Jerusalem is a free woman; she is our mother.  For scripture says,

Rejoice, O barren woman who never bore a child; break into a shout of joy, you who have never been in labour; for the deserted wife will have more children than she who lives with her husband.

Now you, my friends, like Isaac, are children of God’s promise, but just as in those days the natural-born son persecuted the spiritual son, so it is today.  Yet what does the scripture say?

Drive out the slave and her son, for the son of the slave shall not share the inheritance with the son of the free woman.

You see, then, my friends, we are no slave’s children; our mother is the free woman.  It is for freedom that Christ set us free.  Stand firm, therefore, and refuse to submit to the yoke of slavery.

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Christian liberty is a theme which runs through the Letter to the Galatians.  This liberty frees us to fulfill our spiritual potential as heirs, not servants, and as children of God.  That is the context for Paul’s words which follow:

Your religion is beginning to be a matter of observing special days and months and seasons and years.–Galatians 4:10, The New Testament in Modern English, J. B. Phillips, 1972

Paul referred to the legalistic observance of Jewish fasts and feasts, as well as to certain Gentile (Pagan) celebrations.  The key word in the previous sentence is “legalistic.”  Many rituals are inherently neutral; the good or bad of them comes from those who observe them.

I am an Episcopalian and an unrepentant ritualist.  I remember a conversation from the early 1990s.  Some students from the Baptist Student Union at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton, Georgia, criticized formal worship, saying that it consisted of merely going through the motions.  The wording they used suggested that they understood the most sincere worship to be the simplist worship.  They did not grasp that one can go through the motions regardless of whether one has two or thirty-two of them.  And, as Father Peter Ingeman, Rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta, Georgia, has said correctly, a liturgy is simply an agreed-upon, regular, and predictable pattern of worship.  So anyone who attends a church with an agreed-upon, regular, and predictable pattern of worship goes to a liturgical church.

There is a story, which might be true.  The pastor of First Baptist Church in a county seat town in the U.S. South hosted a community Thanksgiving service.  The local Episcopal priest participated.  At the appointed time, the host pastor introduced the priest:

Now Father Jones from the Episcopal Church will say one of his…written prayers.

The priest walked to the pulpit and said,

Let us pray.  Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name….

Paul did not write that Christians should no longer observe festivals and keep the Sabbath, although an inaccurate reading of the passage can point in that direction.  Indeed, the interpretation of Galatians 4:9-11 has led to the condemnation of the religious observance of Christmas and Easter.  A textbook example of one variety of Calvinist Jure Divino theology is the following resolution, which the 1899 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, the old “Southern Presbyterian Church,” passed:

There is 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 the gospel in Jesus Christ.

The Journal of the General Assembly, 1899, page 430

Rituals mark time and transitions.  This time differs from that time, and a certain ritual divides them.  One can argue convincingly, for example, that a couple is (or ought to be) spiritually married prior to the marriage ceremony, but the ritual does define the moment they become married in the eyes of the church, the state, or both.  This is an important distinction in law and society.  And I had become a de facto Episcopalian prior to my confirmation, but now I have a date to observe every year.  (The anniversary of my confirmation is December 22.)  Rituals help with regard to social cohesion.  What separates boys from men, informal couples from married people, lay people from clergy, and students from graduates?  Rituals.  And what gives unique characters to the seasons of Advent, Christmas, the Season after Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and the Season after Pentecost?  Rituals.

Paul meant that one ought not observe certain days then think that one has fulfilled one’s duties.  Religion ought not to consist entirely of such occasions, but they can enrich it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 3, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF RICHARD HOOKER, ANGLICAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF DANIEL PAYNE, AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL BISHOP

THE FEAST OF THE INAUGURATION OF THE CHURCH OF PAKISTAN, 1970

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on November 3, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/week-of-proper-23-monday-year-2/

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Arguing with God   3 comments

Above: The Sacrifice of Isaac (1603 version), by Caravaggio

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Genesis 22:1-19 (An American Translation):

Some time after this [the covenant with Abimelech] God put Abraham to the test.

Abraham!

he said to him.

Here am I,

he said.

Take your son,

he said,

your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and there offer him as a burnt-offering on one of the hills which I shall designate to you.

So next morning Abraham rose early, and harnessing his ass, he took two of his servants with him and his son Isaac, and having cut wood for the burnt-offering, he started off for the sanctuary which God had designated to him.  On the third day, when Abraham raised his eyes, he saw the sanctuary in the distance.  So Abraham said to his servants,

Stay here with the ass, while I and the boy go yonder to perform our devotions, after which we shall return to you.

So Abraham took the wood for the burnt-offering and put on the back of his son Isaac, while he carried in his own hand the fire and the knife.  So the two of them went off together.

Father!

said Isaac to his father Abraham.

Yes, my son,

he responded.

Here are the fire and the wood,

he said,

but where is the sheep for a burnt-offering?

Abraham said,

God will provide himself with the sheep for a burnt-offering, my son.

Thereupon the two of them proceeded on their way together.

When they had arrived at the sanctuary which God had designated to him, Abraham built the altar there, arranged the wood, and binding his son Isaac, laid him on the altar on top of the wood.  But as Abraham put out his hand to grasp the knife to slay his son, the angel of the LORD called to him from the heavens,

Abraham, Abraham!

He replied,

Here I am.

He said,

Do not lay hands on the boy, do nothing of the sort to him; for I know now that you revere God, in that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.

When Abraham raised his eyes, he saw behind him a ram caught in the brushwood by its horns!  So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt-offering in place of his son.  Then Abraham called the name of that sanctuary Yahweh-jireh, which today is interpreted as

At the hill of the LORD provision is made.

A second time the angel of the LORD called to Abraham from the heavens,

I swear by myself

–that is the oracle of the LORD–

that since you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and will surely make your descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky, or the sands of that are on the seashore, so that your descendants shall take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your descendants all the nations of the earth shall invoke blessings on one another–just because you have heeded my injunction.

Abraham then returned to his servants, and together they started off for Beersheba; and in Beersheba Abraham made his home.

Psalm 116:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of my supplication,

because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.

2 The cords of death entangled me;

the grip of the grave took hold of me;

O came to grief and sorrow.

3 Then I called upon the Name of the LORD;

“O LORD, I pray you, save my life.”

Gracious is the LORD and righteous;

our God is full of compassion.

5 The LORD watches over the innocent;

I was brought very low, and he helped me.

Turn again to your rest, O my soul,

for the LORD has treated you well.

7 For you have rescued my life from death,

my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.

8 I will walk in the presence of the LORD

in the land of the living.

Matthew 9:1-8 (An American Translation):

So he [Jesus] got into the boat and crossed the sea, and returned to his own city.

Some people came bringing to him on a bed a man who was paralyzed.  Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic,

Courage, my son!  Your sins are forgiven.

Some of the scribes said to themselves,

This man is talking blasphemy!

Jesus knew what they were thinking, and he said,

Why do you have such wicked thoughts in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk”?  But would you know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth.

Then he said to the paralytic,

Get up, pick up your bed, and go home!

And he got up and went home. And when the crowd saw it, they were filled with awe, and praised God for giving such power to men.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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I attended Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia, from 1993 to 1996.  During that time I belonged to and attended Christ Episcopal Church, across the street from the campus.  One year I attended the passion play at Park Avenue United Methodist Church.  The opening scene of “God Hath Provided the Lamb” was the near-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham.  The play reflected a traditional Christian interpretation of this horrible story, that of prefiguring the sacrifice of Jesus.  (The play also embraced Penal Substitutionary Atonement, another bad idea.)

Today, December 17, 2010, for the second time in a few days, I have typed out the entire text of Genesis 22:1-19.  The previous time I typed out the text according to the New Revised Standard Version for the Proper 8, Year A, Revised Common Lectionary post (http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/proper-8-year-a/).  This is one reading that rips out my heart every time.  How would you, O reader, feel if you were Isaac?  Abraham bargains with God for the lives of strangers in Genesis 18 yet never for that of his own flesh and blood.  The concept of obedience to God has that strong a hold over him.

Obviously, I reject the premise that God told Abraham to sacrifice his son.  Only a sadistic deity would do such a thing, and my image of God comes from Jesus, love incarnate.

Once I heard a brief comparison of Islam and Judaism.  The chief value in Islam is submitting to God, but people argue with God in Judaism.  I like arguing with God.  And what better time is there to argue with God than in defense of a family member?  If the argument does nothing else, it might clear up any confusion:  “Did you, O God, really command me to sacrifice my son?”  The best way to get an answer to ask a question.

In Matthew 9:1-8 Jesus is back home in Capernaum, where some friends bring a paralyzed man to be healed.  A common belief at the time and place held that physical ailments had their origin in sin, so perhaps the paralyzed man believed this.  His condition might have been psychosomatic.  Jesus addresses both sides–the spiritual/psychological and the physical–and receives criticism from religiously orthodox people of the time and place.  Was Jesus committing blasphemy by forgiving sins?

I note that these critics focused on their narrow theological concerns, not the well-being of the paralyzed man.  Therein resided their wickedness.  They needed to care about people more than abstract theology.  They failed to understand that the best theology finds expression not only in words but in compassionate deeds as well.

In Matthew 9:1-8 we have an example of when arguing with God was inappropriate.  Lest we content ourselves with praising Jesus and condemning his critics, we need to ask ourselves some difficult questions:  Who are we in this story?  Are we so bound to our own traditions that, if, were we of a different time, place, and culture, we would probably defend traditions and propositions we reject today?  These are questions of personality and spiritual type.

I answer for myself, and for myself alone.  I do not know where I would have stood in relation to Jesus under such hypothetical circumstances.  I like to think that I would have followed him, but this is just a hope.  I suspect that I would have been agnostic at best and critical at worst, for I prefer certain traditions.

Knowing when to argue with God can be difficult.  May we choose wisely.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 17, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARIA STEWART, EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF EGLANTYNE JEBB, FOUNDER OF SAVE THE CHILDREN

THE FEAST OF FRANK MASON NORTH, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER

THE FEAST OF SAINT OLYMPIAS, ORTHODOX DEACONESS

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/week-of-proper-8-thursday-year-1/

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Regarding Faith and Reason   Leave a comment

Above:  Richard Hooker, Who Gave Us the Anglican Three Legged Stool:  Scripture, Tradition, and Reason

I have observed over the years how, particularly in Bible Belt, my geographical context, many people suspend critical thinking in matters of faith and religion.  This is an unfortunate human tendency.  We are the species Homo sapiens sapiens.  Our Latin name indicates that we think.  So, why do so many of us choose not to do this?

One reason is the power of tradition, doctrine, and dogma, which combine to induce the fear of an unpleasant afterlife in many.  A common characteristic of many religions is the injunction to believe X, Y, and Z…or else.  This, I think, is mostly a social control mechanism of human origin.

I do not say, however, that we should believe just anything.  My library contains many books that contain theology I describe charitably as “interesting” because that term is polite compared to my actual opinion.  (“B.S.” is the abbreviation for my actual opinion of certain theology.)  The Book of Mormon, for example, is “interesting.”  Also, it contradicts archeology.  I side with the archeologists.  Yet one aspect of Mormonism is the downplaying of critical thinking (and the emphasizing of having faith) in cases of conflicts between Mormon teaching with science and history.

I cannot divorce faith and reason, however.  So I reject The Book of Mormon as rubbish and a bad forgery.  So I accept the reality of the biological processes of evolution through natural selection.  So I accept the fossil record and recognize that the beginning of Genesis is not a science text.  (The first few chapters of Genesis teach me profound truths about human nature and divine nature–that God is one and possessed of a stable personality; that we bear the image of God, with some free will–and that is wonderful. )

The Episcopal Church, to which I belong, has a poster bearing an image of Jesus.  It says, “He died to take away your sins, not your mind.”  This summarizes much of what I like about my adopted denomination.  Anglican teaching rejects Sola Scriptura, or scripture alone, the standard of many Protestants.  Rather, we learn that we must use tradition and reason in addition to scripture.  I agree with this.

My intellect constitutes an essential element of my life of faith.  There I recognize part of the image of God within myself.  There I see what separates me from many other sentient species.  So I refuse to discount the importance of the intellect in relation to tradition, scripture, dogma, doctrine, or emotion, the latter of which is especially popular among many Evangelicals.

No, I prefer a cooler, more intellectual Christianity, in contrast to an ecstatic, experience-oriented variety.  This is who I am.  Here I stand.  I will do no other.   I can do no other.

Faith and reason are different ways of knowing.  Reason carries me far–to the foot the cross, in fact.  There faith takes over.  The resurrection of Jesus is an essential element of Christianity.  Without it I would have belong to another tradition.  I cannot prove that the resurrection occurred, nor can I prove that it did not occur.  It resides in the jurisdiction of faith.  Through faith I believe–I trust–that it happened.  Through faith I interpret its meaning.  The fact that the resurrection is a matter of faith, not documented history, does not bother me.

I have harbored more doubts that certain answers for years.  This does not concern me, for asking questions increases the probability of finding answers.  And even if I do not find certain answers that is fine, too, for I do not need to know everything or most things.  God knows them, and I am content with that.

Years ago, when I was an undergraduate at Valdosta State College, Valdosta, Georgia, two dorm mates (of Evangelical persuasions) told me that I think too much.  I should be content to believe–just believe–they said.  One of these individuals informed me that my excessive thinking was sending me to Hell.  I restrained my tongue and did not offer to save her a seat, but I had no more substantial conversations with her.  I had nothing else to say to her.

I reject all forms of fundamentalism.  They shut down debate and ignore evidence that runs afoul of the fundamentalist’s established worldview.  Religious fundamentalism is just as bad as atheistic fundamentalism, such as that of Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher, or Richard Dawkins.  All these varieties represent extremes, and truth, I have found, is seldom at the extremes.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 29, 2009

Published originally at SUNDRY THOUGHTS OF KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR