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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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Posted June 6, 2014 by neatnik2009 in Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Predecessors, Reformed (General), United Church of Christ Predecessors, Wesleyan (General)

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Priorities, Misplaced and Otherwise   2 comments

Above: Samuel Anoints David, Syria, 3rd Century C.E.

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1 Samuel 16:1-13 (New Revised Standard Version):

The Lord said to Samuel,

How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.

Samuel said,

How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.

And the Lord said,

Take a heifer with you, and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.” Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.

Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said,

Do you come peaceably?

He said,

Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.

And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought,

Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.

But the Lord said to Samuel,

Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.

Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said,

Neither has the Lord chosen this one.

Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said,

Neither has the Lord chosen this one.

Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse,

The Lord has not chosen any of these.

Samuel said to Jesse,

Are all your sons here?

And he said,

There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.

And Samuel said to Jesse,

Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.

He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said,

Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.

Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Psalm 23 (New Revised Standard Version):

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

he leads me beside still waters;

he restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths

for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

I fear no evil;

for you are with me;

your rod and my staff–

they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD

my whole life long.

Ephesians 5:8-14 (New Revised Standard Version):

For once you were in darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.  Live as children of light–for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.  Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.  Take no part in unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.  Therefore it says,

Sleeper, awake!

Rise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.

John 9:1-41 (New Revised Standard Version):

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him,

Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?

Jesus answered,

Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him,

Go, wash in the pool of Siloam

(which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask,

Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?

Some were saying,

It is he.

Others were saying,

No, but it is someone like him.

He kept saying,

I am the man.

But they kept asking him,

Then how were your eyes opened?

He answered,

The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.’”Then I went and washed and received my sight.

They said to him,

Where is he?

He said,

I do not know.

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them,

He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.

Some of the Pharisees said,

This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.

But others said,

How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?

And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man,

What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.

He said,

He is a prophet.

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them,

Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?

His parents answered,

We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.

His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said,

He is of age; ask him.

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him,

Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.

He answered,

I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.

They said to him,

What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?

He answered them,

I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?

Then they reviled him, saying,

You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.

The man answered,

Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.

They answered him,

You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?

And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said,

Do you believe in the Son of Man?

He answered,

And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.

Jesus said to him,

You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.

He said,

Lord, I believe.

And he worshiped him. Jesus said,

I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.

Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him,

Surely we are not blind, are we?

Jesus said to them,

If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,” your sin remains.

The Collect:

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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I read little from evangelical writers, for almost nothing from that genre of nonfiction interests me.  (I have had some unfortunate encounters with self-described evangelicals over the years.  These are par for the course when one is an intellectual liberal with High Church (in my case, progressively Anglican-Lutheran-Catholic over time) leanings in the Bible Belt.  Yet Philip Yancey is one evangelical whose books I feel comfortable reading.  Two of these volumes are Soul Survivor and The Jesus I Never Knew.  In these books I have read that Yancey grew up in a Southern U.S. white culture in which Christian fundamentalism blended easily with overt racism.  His family’s church in Atlanta decided to open a Christian school very shortly after the 1954Brown v. Board of Education ruling, for example.  And, in the 1960s, when Yancey was slightly older, he went off to a Bible college where civil rights for African Americans were not considered important, but the length of a man’s hair (short) and of a woman’s skirt (long) were major priorities.  Yancey wrote that college administrators would not have admitted Jesus based on his haircut (too long), as artists have depicted it.

Cultural blinders are difficult to recognize, and every acculturated person has them.  Often these cultural blinders lead us to spiritual blindness, so that, even when we believe we are acting righteously, we deceive ourselves.  In 1962 the Presbyterian Church in United States (1861-1983), the old “Southern Presbyterian Church,” approved a revised Brief Statement of Belief.  The paragraph on total depravity follows:

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.

As one reads the four canonical gospels, one notices that many (not all) Pharisees come across as the bete noires of those compositions.  This is true of John 9:1-41.  At the time and place there was a common belief that physical difficulties resulted from sins.  These things could never just happen, could they?  That was the attitude.  So we have the case of Jesus, a man born blind, his parents, and some Pharisees.  Jesus gave the man sight, an act which vexed the Pharisees.  They spoke to the man’s parents, who referred them to their adult son.  The formerly blind man, not understanding the Pharisees’ agenda, asked naively if they wanted to follow Jesus, too.  (If this were a cartoon steam would rise from the Pharisees ears at that point.)  The Pharisees drove the man out, and he encountered Jesus again.  The Pharisees were spiritually blind, but the formerly blind man had clear spiritual vision.  And the Pharisees did not recognize their blindness.

1 Samuel reminds us that God looks on the heart, but that we humans are frequently superficial in our judgments.  Attractive people seem to rise to the top, do they not?  When physical beauty and handsomeness are paired with qualifications, talents, and skills, this is not a problem.  But I cannot help but think about the example of U.S. President Franklin Pierce (in office 1853-1857), who competes with Warren G. Harding and James Buchanan for the “worst president” slot in historians’ ratings.  The nicest statement I have read about Pierce is that he was the most handsome president.

David, 1 Samuel tells us, was not handsome, at least compared to his elder brothers.  No, he was ruddy.  But he had leadership skills, which were more important than his appearance.

By grace may we can approach more closely a state in which we see as God sees, and therefore follow Jesus.  May we lay aside our fixations on trivial religious matters, embrace goodness, and love one another.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 19, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SADHU SUNDAR SINGH, TEACHER AND EVANGELIST

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/fourth-sunday-in-lent-year-a/

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