Hymnus Deo

Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Saturday, December 30, 2006

White Christmas

My sister sent this link to me the other day. Pretty funny.

BTW...I've been posting some things here, but also some things over at my other blog.

Some things I've posted both places. But some things seem to fit better in one blog or the other, so I don't replicate every post in both places. Just thought I'd mention it for any who might want to check both out.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Exclusive Brethren - Elders an Impossibility?

I was doing some surfing on the BrethrenPedia website, when I ran across this piece of information (in the boldface print) that I had never heard before:

"As the name implies the Exclusives are so named for their practice of serving the Lord's Supper exclusively to those who are part of their own particular group, agreeing with them on various doctrinal positions.

Most exclusive groups believe the church to have been in ruins between the death of the apostles and their own time. Since no truly apostolic authority exists to appoint elders the church has none. Instead they recognize leading brothers who demonstrate maturity and leadership ability."

For a few years I've thought it would be interesting to do a study of Darby (from whom the Exclusives, moreso than the Open Brethren, trace their roots) and to consider what things might have carried over from Darby's Church of Ireland (Episcopal) background into the Plymouth Brethren. And here's one example. The doctrine of the Apostolic Succession of ministers is not exactly the type of thing most who are familiar with the Brethren would expect to find taught among them. And it seems that this would contradict their concept of there being no distinction between clergy and laity, as expressed in the same article:

"The most defining element of these churches is the total rejection of the concept of clergy. Rather, in keeping with the doctrine of the Priesthood of the Believer, they view all Christians as being ordained by God to serve and are therefore ministers. Leadership is by example and by the recognition of their abilities by those they lead."

I wonder what they believe would have been necessary in order for the succession to have been continued. I was taught among the Open Brethren that while there were certainly believers through the years since the time of the apostles, the church was still in a ruinous state. But it's hard to figure out exactly what they thought would have had to be in place for the church to not have entered that state. The impression I got was that the church would have had to maintain the "Assembly Distinctions", which included things like no clergy/laity distinction, no salaried ministry, women wearing headcoverings during assembly meetings, a specific approach to worship, no women leading in worship or otherwise teaching men, local church autonomy, etc. But why would doctrinal and practical purity have been necessary to maintain the lineage? There seems to be a strong concept of Perfectionism here, which would explain why the Brethren began separating from each other almost as soon as they met and began fellowshipping together.

One other thing that the average Assembly person probably doesn't know is that Darby never rejected infant baptism, unlike most of the other founding Brethren. This has continued among the Exclusive Brethren to some extent. Here's what it says in the BrethrenPedia article on Baptism:

"Since their beginning, the Assemblies have practiced two modes of baptism: Believer's Baptism and Household Baptism. Believer's Baptism is the baptizing of believing adults, and is always performed by immersion. All Open Assemblies and some Exclusive Assemblies (in the USA) practice Believer's Baptism. Household Baptism is generally baptism by immersion; it includes infant baptism either by immersion or sprinkling. Some Exclusive Assemblies practice Household Baptism."


Christmas in the Olden Time

Christmas in the Olden Time by Sir Walter Scott

Heap on more wood! — the wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will,
We'll keep our Christmas merry still.
Each age has deemed the new born year
The fittest time for festal cheer.
And well our Christian sires of old.
Loved when the year its course had rolled,
And brought blithe Christmas back again,
With all his hospitable train.
Domestic and religious rite
Gave honour to the holy night:
On Christmas eve the bells were rung;
On Christmas eve the mass was sung;
That only night, in all the year,
Saw the stoled priest the chalice rear.
The damsel donned her kirtle sheen;
The hail was dressed with holly green;
Forth to the wood did merry men go,
To gather in the mistletoe,
Then opened wide the baron's hail
To vassal, tenant, serf, and all;
Power laid his rod of rule aside,
And Ceremony doff'd his pride.
The heir, with roses in his shoes,
That night might village partner choose.
The lord, underogating, share
The vulgar game of "post and pair!'
All hailed with uncontroll'd delight
And general voice, the happy night
That to the cottage, as the crown,
Brought tidings of salvation down.

The fire with well dried logs supplied,
Went roaring up the chimney wide;
The huge hail table's oaken face,
Scrubb'd till it shone, the day to grace,
Bore then upon: its massive board
No mark to part the squire and lord.
Then was brought in the lusty brawn,
By old, blue-coated serving-man;
Then the grim boar's head frowned on high,
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Well can the green-garbed ranger tell,
How, when, and where, the monster fell;
What dogs before his death he tore,
And all the baiting of the boar.
The wassail round in good brown bowls,
Garnished with ribbon, blithely trowls.
There the huge sirloin reeked: hard by
Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas pie;
Nor failed old Scotland to produce
At such high tide her savoury goose.

Then came the merry masquers in,
And carols roar'd with blithesome din;
If unmelodious was the song,
It was a hearty note, and strong.
Who lists may in their mumming see
Traces of ancient mystery;
White shirts supplied the masquerade,
And smutted cheeks the visor made
But oh! what masquers, richly dight,
Can boast of bosoms half so light!
England was merry England when
Old Christmas brought his sports again.
'Twas Christmas broached the mightiest ale,
'Twas Christmas told the merriest tale;
A Christmas gambol oft would cheer
A poor man's heart through half the year.

You will find other carols, hymns, and poems here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Early Music For Christmas

For those in the Greensboro area, the Kensington Consort will be performing its Christmas concert this Friday, December 22, at St. Andrews Episcopal Church. The concert begins at 7 p.m. The Kensington Consort is a vocal ensemble that performs Mediaeval, Renaissance, and early Baroque music. I’ve never heard them before, but as a fan of this sort of music, I’m looking forward to the concert.

Friday, December 15, 2006

More on The Children of Men

I. The liberty which Christ has purchased for believers under the Gospel consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, and condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law; and, in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin; from the evil of afflictions, the sting of death, the victory of the grace, and everlasting damnation; as also, in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto Him, not out of slavish fear, but a child-like love and willing mind. All which were common also to believers under the law. But, under the New Testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish Church was subjected; and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of.

II. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in any thing, contrary to His Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.

III. They who, upon pretence of Christian liberty, do practice any sin, or cherish any lust, do thereby destroy the end of Christian liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life.

IV. And because the powers which God has ordained, and the liberty which Christ has purchased are not intended by God to destroy, but mutually to uphold and preserve one another, they who, upon pretence of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God. And, for their publishing of such opinions, or maintaining of such practices, as are contrary to the light of nature, or to the known principles of Christianity (whether concerning faith, worship, or conversation), or to the power of godliness; or, such erroneous opinions or practices, as either in their own nature, or in the manner of publishing or maintaining them, are destructive to the external peace and order which Christ has established in the Church, they may lawfully be called to account, and proceeded against, by the censures of the Church. and by the power of the civil magistrate.

- Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 20

A friend asked me today what knew about the movie The Children of Men, since he had seen me mention it on my blog. I’ve just recently begun reading the book, so my knowledge is little at this point. I had heard an interview with Ralph Wood (who some of you might know for his work on J. R. R. Tolkien, Walker Percy, or Flannery O’Connor) with Ken Myers on Myers’ Mars Hill Audio Journal a few years ago in which they talked about P. D. James and this book in general (the journal edition was no. 54, Jan./Feb. ’02). I had heard of James prior to this, but knew nothing about her. Since hearing the interview I’ve been intrigued, but her works have remained on the back burner, and this is the first time they’ve moved up front.

Here is what I do know: the book is set in the year 2021. The prose takes the form of a journal written by one Theodore Faron, an Oxford historian. The crisis point of the book is that no children have been born anywhere throughout the world since 1995. In spite of the attempts of science to rectify the problem, it has proven impotent in all its efforts (pardon the pun). I know that by the nature of the story there is a sort of pro-life and anti-naturalist bent to the book. I just finished chapter four today, so that’s about all I know about the book itself. I know that James herself is a Christian, a member of the Church of England.

I wanted, though, to buffer what might be viewed as an unconditioned recommendation of the movie. I mentioned it here because of the interest that James’s writings have conjured in the Christian community, especially among those who tend to engage more or less frequently in the so-called “culture wars”, or, in a less militant way, for those who simply see the place of enjoying the fruits of God’s creation in culture formed by the hands of men.

But I cannot wholly endorse the film. For one thing, I haven’t seen the movie, so it could be either a bad adaptation of the book (change of storyline, or something of the like), or for one reason or another just a poor film.

But secondly, I wanted to add a caveat based on the rating of the film. It is rated R, and the website follows this up with “strong violence” and “some drug use and brief nudity”. On the basis of this, I probably won’t go see the film myself. My big concern isn’t the violence, though I don’t personally enjoy a lot of violence in films. And the drug use is of no concern. But the nudity is a concern.

It’s hard sometimes to know exactly what is okay and what isn’t okay to view in the media. I think the average Christian knows that to view anything that might be labeled as pornography is a grave sin. The problem is in knowing what should and shouldn’t be labeled as pornography. “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4). There have been those from within the Christian community throughout the history of the West that have argued in favor of nudity in art as legitimate, and I can’t fully argue against it. Nor would I seek to bind the conscience of any, hence the inclusion of Chapter 20 of the Westminster Confession of Faith above. And if one goes strictly by what is mentioned in connection with the rating, we may assume that what takes place in the film is just nudity, entirely apart from any hint of actual sexual conduct. I’m not sure that’s a safe assumption, but it’s the best one can do given the information provided.

I guess when it comes down to it, the question I have to ask myself is this: would I want my daughter, my sister, my wife, or my mother to be the one up on the screen and unclothed? The answer is an unequivocal “no!” It may actually be male nudity in the film. But since female nudity is far more common in movies today, I think it’s safe to expect that to be the case here.

One of the things that has gradually eroded in our society today is any concept of the reality of a woman’s honor. Women are meant to be honored, and where that has been erased from the consensus understanding of a community it is first and foremost the fault of the men of that community. This is not to say that women aren’t sinners too, or that they can’t do anything to cause or contribute to their dishonor. But where there is a failure in a community, it is a failure on the part of men to lead, and in this case, a failure on the part of men to hold up women as something to be treasured.

I think also of the general absence of shame in our society. Think, for instance: when was the last time you saw some one blush? Shame in a sinful world is a beautiful thing. It says that a person has a sense of purity of life and of mind. It is a sign of one’s consciousness of his or her own limitedness - a sense of humility. It is dismissed by the cynical and proud of the world, who deep down inside know they have lost their purity and who think there is no hope of recovering any of it. But God says otherwise.

The issue here isn’t really even my own purity as the one who will or will not see the film. The issue here is as it always is. I am to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. I am to give myself away in sacrifice where it is called for, as my Saviour did. I don’t think I can do that and go see this film, as much as I might like to. I leave it to you to decide whether or not you can.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Children of Men

I just discovered that P. D. James's book The Children of Men has been made into a film, which is being released on Christmas Day. You can see the official movie website here.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Frankly Unfriendly Catholics

Speaking of Anglo-catholicism, I ran across this website earlier today. It pokes fun at Anglo-catholics, but is actually run by Anglo-catholics. I haven't been in Anglican circles long enough to get some of the jokes, but it's still pretty funny.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Obligatory Blogging

Say that three times real fast.

Yes, I continue to be the slackest of bloggers. Ten lashes with a wet noodle for me. I’m sure I’ll get more inspired some time soon. Blogging has just had to take a back seat to other events in my life here recently.

Concerning recent events…I was confirmed in the Anglican Province of America about six weeks ago. I had never seen a confirmation ceremony before, so I fumbled and bumbled my way through it, kneeling, standing, and reciting when I was directed to. I’m pretty certain the thing took in spite of my foibles. Therefore I am now officially and fully a part of the Church, by Anglican standards. And so to all my non-Catholic friends: I’m in Apostolic Succession, and you aren’t. Na-na-na-na-na-na.

My dear Plymouth Brethren mother attended the service at my request, though her attendance was more than a little reluctant. When a parishioner asked her what she thought of the service, she just smiled and nodded her head. Bless her heart, as we say here in the south. I trust one day she will understand her son’s strange ecclesial journey, though that understanding may not come this side of glory.

And yet in my personal beliefs, I remain mostly a Presbyterian.

I have no idea who is reading my blog (though I can tell someone is by the hit counter), so I don’t know how this bit of information will strike the reader. Some of you may be more traditionally Western Catholic in your beliefs, in which case you’re saying to yourself something like “All the oil and holy water in the world won’t help this guy.” And some of you may be more Reformational or Evangelical in your beliefs, in which case you have written me off as a crypto-papist at worst or as just confused at best.

But most of you probably could care less, which may be the best position to be in.

The fact that I am a Presbyterian is one that I made sure of discussing with my priest before joining the church. I am something of a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none when it comes to theology. That includes the endless variety of denominational distinctives. I wanted to make sure that I could transfer my membership to another denomination (specifically, Presbyterian) sometime later after being confirmed. I know some Anglican communions wouldn’t allow that. I was assured that in the APA I could do that. Plus, I am not one to enter into a church situation under false pretenses. I wanted my pastor to know clearly where I was coming from. While the APA is generally more Anglo-Catholic in its practice, I am a Protestant down to my toenails. I am appreciative of the immense good that has come out of Catholicism and Orthodoxy. But I have numerous fundamental disagreements with both groups. Nor do I have any intention of changing. I go wherever the truth leads me, and so if I were to become convinced of Anglo-Catholicism, then my views would change. But I believe I’ve looked at the issues sufficiently to know that such a change won’t be happening. The APA seems broad enough to hold Protestants and Catholics, though I’m sure if disagreements haven’t already taken place, eventually they will. Protestants and Catholics can only tolerate each other in the same communion for so long. Then again, I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet. That question to the side, as long as the APA keeps using the 1928 Prayer Book of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and allows for diversity in private devotion without forcing the more Catholic practices into public devotion, I can be content where I am.

Our culture today has taught us to view the church the way it has taught us to view everything else (everything, that is, not claimed by the State). We begin with the grid of free will and filter everything through that grid. One shape the free will grid takes is the shape of consumerism. We go out shopping for religion and choose whatever strikes our fancy. There have been other factors in the history of America that have bourne upon our ideas of church. What we have ended up with is what R. J. Rushdoony called “The Voluntaristic Church”. We can buy whatever religion we want, or we can vote it into being, or we can just make it up as it suits us. We determine our own destiny. There is no transcendent standard. Most people aren’t so brazen as this, though this mentality directs their decisions to some degree anyway.

I’ve tried to take a more Biblically intelligent approach to finding a church than that. I don’t think I can go just wherever suits me. I have to examine Scripture, determine what is the most Biblically shaped church available to me, and join that church. It isn’t always easy to make that choice, or even to determine what is most important in a church. But one has to follow Scripture as best he can.

If I’m mostly a Presbyterian (you may be wondering), why did I join an Anglican church? I can’t fully answer the question now. But here are a couple of brief reasons.

Since leaving the Plymouth Brethren about seven years ago, I’ve spent a lot of time surveying the church landscape, both in my community and in the broader world. I’ve spent a lot of time as well studying the Scriptures, and reading books by various Christian theologians of various persuasions on all sorts of topics. And while I don’t have everything figured out, I’m in a pretty settled position regarding what I believe the Scriptures to teach on just about every major topic.

One topic I’m pretty settled on is worship. Not on every aspect of worship, mind you. I have plenty more to learn when it comes to the details. But I’m convinced of certain things nonetheless. For one thing, I’m convinced that worship should be reverent. There should be no running around chit-chatting in the worship room right before the service. That kind of behaviour immediately betrays what people think they are there for and what they think of God. The music should communicate the greatness of God’s character and of His salvation of us. With so many churches abandoning traditional hymnody for modern sappy effeminate pop songs, any sort of notion of these things is being lost. And those leading worship should behave in a way that demonstrates for the people that they are entering into God’s presence when they gather for corporate worship. The pastor needs to save his jokes for some other time. The sad thing is that what I’ve just described characterizes most of the Presbyterian churches I’ve attended. So that eliminated about ninety percent of the Presbyterian churches in my area.

I also believe worship should be more liturgical in nature. This is just building off of my previous point. And once again, I’m still working out the details of this one. But here’s one thing to consider. In the Old Covenant, God gave the people of Israel a very detailed pattern of worship. This pattern was very structured in its order and execution. If once in history God Himself saw fit to give us a pattern, shouldn’t we consider that pattern and its context as we shape New Covenant worship? Now we know that the exact shape of Old Covenant worship was done away with in the ending of the Old Covenant. The Book of Hebrews makes that quite clear. But the Israelites were people, and so are we. And they didn’t just invent their own worship – God gave it to them. Those two elements alone make me believe that we should consider the orderliness of worship as a vital element.

But there is more to liturgy than just being orderly, just like there is more to being liturgical than just having alot of different elements to your worship service. Many Presbyterian churches have order, as well as some of the classic elements of a liturgical service, such as the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. But a classical liturgical service conveys the idea that we are there to corporately engage in dialogue with God. If a pastor ad libs between every element of worship, even if it is Scripture-related ad libbing, he gives off the impression that the congregation is in fact dialoguing with him, not God. That is what I have often seen in Presbyterian churches that would say they have a “liturgy”. And so I say to any Presbyterian ministers that may read this: if you really want to communicate the greatness of God to your parishioners as you say you do, then you will follow a set liturgy and get out of the way. If, however, you want it to be your show, then talk as much as possible – during the elements of worship as well as in between them. Have at least two preaching services on Sunday, and maybe a mid-week service. Meet your parishioners for meals, and instruct them then, too. Visit them in their homes, and use the opportunity for more instruction. And don’t let them talk much, because God ordained you to talk, not them. They don’t have anything important to say anyway. And don’t worry about burning your people out. If they can’t handle all the instruction, then they probably aren’t truly converted anyway.

Those last few sentences were sarcastic, as I trust you can tell. I wish I could say that they are fictitious, but they are based on my own personal experiences with Reformed ministers (except for the last sentence – for the most part, anyway). Then again, I’ve blogged about this before, so the reader already knew about my frustration with this sort of thing. Nonetheless, this is another example of the problems that have kept me out of the other Presbyterian churches in my community.

Liturgy is the main reason I’m in the Anglican church rather than in a Presbyterian church. If I’m so Protestant, you might wonder, why didn’t I just join an Evangelical congregation? I tried going it in non-liturgical Evangelical churches before this. But I just couldn’t stand the casualness of the congregation’s behaviour in worship. I couldn’t stand the contemporary music. I longed for weekly communion. I missed the full-orbed observance of the Church Calendar. And I wanted to be with people who were conscious that they were part of a community two thousand years old (or, truly, older), and who weren’t afraid to draw off of the wisdom of that ancient community. I hope one day to find myself a member of a Reformed congregation that has all of these things. But for now, until the Lord directs me otherwise, I am where I am.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Notes to Self

And you, if you're interested:

The Nutcracker

A Christmas Carol