Hymnus Deo

Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Friday, May 25, 2007

Another Catholic convert

A few months ago, I was talking to a friend about some of his studies in church history, particularly in relation to the historic relationship between Islam and the Christian Church. My friend, a Protestant, was lamenting the loss of a unified front against Islam, which was the result of the Protestant Reformation. He also expressed his concern over new, start-up denominations, and his tendency to more naturally trust those Christian groups whose claims to historicity are verifiable. The nature of his statements was such that I questioned him about his Protestant credentials, but he assured me that he still believed in the doctrines that set the Reformation apart from Rome. And so far as I know, he is still standing with the Reformation.

It was less than a week later when I found myself having answer some of the same charges. I was reading a book on the Latin rite of the Roman Church as it was in practice in the U. S. prior to Vatican II. A friend of mine, who is a more staunch Presbyterian than I am, saw that I was reading it, and began questioning me about it. To be fair to him, I think he had been concerned for me for some time, as he observed my interest in liturgy grow, and as he watched me join an Anglo-Catholic church. My reason for reading on the Mass had nothing to do with any inclination to depart from Protestantism. I had actually been leading a book study group through a story by Flannery O'Connor, and decided it would be good to familiarize myself with the form of worship she would have participated in during her life in order to get a better understanding of her writing. Thankfully, my friend is one of the more reasonable sorts of staunch Presbyterians (a rare breed indeed), and so believed me when I explained myself to him.

This anecdotal situation is probably one more and more common these days. There's a paranoia in Reformed circles about Romanism in general. I don't think this is entirely new; I get the impression from the things I've read that since the sixteenth century the Reformation has had too much of a tendency to define itself according to what Rome isn't. And yet this has been amplified in recent years. The past twenty years has seen Protestant after Protestant venturing to Rome to find whatever, that whatever seeming to vary from person to person. Add to this the converts to either Anglo-Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, and the numbers are sufficient to give anyone bearing the moniker "Reformed" a perpetually sustained nervous twitch.

I think there are things that the Reformed need to learn from this trend, though I won't try to enumerate those things now. I gladly bear the moniker "Reformed" myself, and have no intention of casting it off any time soon. But I remain Reformed with the hope that my fellow Reformed brethren will wake up to their own failures that are causing this movement.

I write these things due to another report of a departure for Rome, this time coming from a member of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. The person involved this time isn't a pastor or theologian, but philosophy professor Robert Koons. For those who want to read it in his own words, you will find his report of his conversion here. I won't use my blog to report on every person converting to this or that group, but I found this story particularly interesting. I think that my favorite statement in Koons' piece was this one:

The [Roman Catholic/Lutheran] Joint Declaration and the recent Catechism of the Catholic Church aided me in giving a closer and more charitable reading to the anathemas of the Council of Trent (which I still believe to be have been written in an unprofitably provocative way).

I'm not entirely sure how one gives a "more charitable reading" of anathemas, but apparently it's possible. At any rate, it's important to read stories like this one, if the Reformed church is ever going to be able to answer the charges against it effectively.

Friday, May 18, 2007

You said, "I love you"

You said, “I love you,” and I know it is true.
I love you too, but I responded with silence,
Because mine is a love you would never countenance.
I am a particle of your life, kept conveniently in its place,
Present when you want, and away when you wish.
As we are apart, I am alone wondering
Where you are, and whom you are with,
And in part, I know.
You are riding the wind wherever it may blow,
As a leaf flies in a storm, landing
Where it may or may not wish.
You are wandering as a nomad, from here to there,
Seeking what, you do not know,
But ever convinced that it lies
Beyond the next dune.
I would shield you from the winds, if you would let me,
And make you a home
That you need never again wander.
But though you love me,
You love your winds and wandering more.
And so I will ever respond in silence,
For yours is a love
I could never countenance.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Scriptural Speculations 2: Water from heaven

As I’ve been studying the Book of Revelation recently, the importance of gaining a right understanding of the covenant in Scripture has become more apparent to me. This was also brought to my attention this morning as I read the Old Testament text assigned for the Morning Prayer service in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. The text was Deuteronomy 11:10-17, but let’s begin at verse 8:

8 “You shall therefore keep the whole commandment that I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and take possession of the land that you are going over to possess, 9 and that you may live long in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give to them and to their offspring, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 For the land that you are entering to take possession of it is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it, like a garden of vegetables. 11 But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven, 12 a land that the Lord your God cares for. The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.

13 “And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14 he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. 15 And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. 16 Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; 17 then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you.

In the first section of verses, Yahweh speaking through Moses draws a contrast between Egypt, which the Israelites had left, and the Promised Land, which Yahweh was giving them. The point of contrast is interesting, being the different ways each of the two lands were watered. In Egypt, the Israelites had to work hard to irrigate the fields so that the crops might be watered. But in the Promised Land, they are told, this work would not need to be done. Water would come from heaven, directly from the hand of Yahweh Himself. God Himself is the Supreme Gardener.

This should have immediately brought two historical matters to mind for the Israelites. First, the Israelites were still at this point receiving the manna from heaven every morning as the means by which God was feeding them. Even as Israel was receiving bread directly from God’s hand, they would soon in the Promised Land receive water directly from God by which they might be sustained.

Secondly, this promise should have brought the Garden of Eden to the mind of the Israelites. Prior to the fall, we are told that “a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden” (Gen. 2:10). Even though God put Adam in the garden to tend it, one work that Adam didn’t have to do was irrigation. God Himself provided for that. He was essentially telling Israel that He was giving to them a new Garden of Eden. Certainly, the effects of the Fall remained. Man would still work “by the sweat of his brow”. But God was redeeming the world through Israel, and his first step in redeeming the world was to put them in a new Eden.

In the last section of verses, Yahweh sets out the possibility of either covenantal blessing or of covenantal cursing. If Israel walks in faithfulness, God will send rain, and Israel’s blessings will overflow. But if they turn away from God, He will shut up the heavens and Israel will perish. This is repeated later in Deuteronomy (28:23-24), and had already been spoken to Israel once when they began their journey in the wilderness (Leviticus 26:19-20). Both passages speak of the earth and the heavens, as well as iron and bronze. (It is interesting that in Leviticus 26:19, the heavens are spoken of as becoming like iron and the earth like bronze, whereas in Deuteronomy 28:23 the two are reversed, the heavens being spoken of as becoming like bronze, and the earth becoming like iron. I have no idea what the reason for the switch might be.) The contrast between these two passages and Deut. 11 is that these two passages only contain the negative sanctions and Deut. 11 contains the positive as well.

Knowing that Yahweh made this declaration is important in making sense out of later portions of Scripture as He entered into judgment upon His people. Solomon invoked this promise of Yahweh when he prayed at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8):

35 “When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin, when you afflict them, 36 then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel, when you teach them the good way in which they should walk, and grant rain upon your land, which you have given to your people as an inheritance.

Here Solomon not only remembers God’s promise of judgment for unfaithfulness, but prays for God’s forgiveness for those who repent, reminding Him of His promise to do this (Deut. 30:1-10). In 2 Chronicles 7 we are told that when God appeared to Solomon in the night after the dedication, God promised that He would indeed do as Solomon asked (vss. 13-14).

In time, however, Israel did follow after other gods, and Yahweh brought this promised curse upon Israel. Yahweh sent His prophets as covenant lawyers to pronounce to Israel that He was entering into judgment with them. The prophecy of Amos recounts a time when Yahweh did withhold rain (Amos 4:7-8). But the most well known case of this is probably the account of drought pronounced by Elijah during the days of Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kings 17-18).

This is a point where I have found understanding the covenant to be so helpful. I have spent most of my life thinking about the various stories in Scripture in a disconnected way. Whereas I knew that God was, in the days of Elijah, for instance, disciplining Israel for its disobedience through the drought, I had never connected that with His establishing of a covenant with Israel. God, when He chose to discipline Israel this way, didn’t pick drought out at random. The choice of withholding rain was based on His special blessings given to them of a land watered by His own direct working, and was tied into the covenant in a special way. We also see in this that God is not a fickle, unpredictable God. He had warned Israel long before what He would do if they were unfaithful to Him. When He entered into covenant with them, He stated the stipulations of the covenant, and so in shutting up the heavens, He was simply keeping His word.

Jesus recounted Elijah and the drought when He appeared in the synagogue in Nazereth at the beginning of His ministry:

23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.

At first we are told that “all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (vs. 22). Yet Jesus, as he was wont to do, opted to pick a fight with those that weren’t looking for one, and so he stated the words above. Why would Jesus’ words have caused the men in the synagogue to be “filled with wrath”? Well, for one thing, he proclaimed himself to be a prophet. Since prophets were lawyers bringing a lawsuit against the nation, a prophet wouldn’t have been good news for people who thought that everything was going just fine. If these people had a problem, it would have been with Rome ruling over them, not with themselves – or so they thought.

But secondly, Jesus was invoking the memory of two occasions in Israel’s history in which Israel suffered for their disobedience and God chose to bless Gentiles instead of Israel. To those who clung to their parentage as if it alone would save them, these would not have been welcome words. Both of these occasions foretell of the day when Gentiles would be welcomed into the Kingdom without becoming Jews. And Jesus came to bring that day in its fullness.

The promise of God to withhold rain as a covenantal judgement continued in the Revelation, as we are told of the destruction of Jerusalem in relation to the two witnesses (Rev. 11:6). The language of drought and plagues has caused commentators to relate the two witnesses as being Moses and Elijah. Adding to this is the statement that the prophets would prophecy 1260 days, and that the holy city would be trampled for forty-two months (Rev. 11:2-3), also drawing the parallel to Elijah’s drought. That Jerusalem is in view here is no question, as the allusion to it in 11:8 is drawn clearly. God had promised certain curses for disobedience, and on the basis of that covenant He acted in the destruction of Jerusalem.

All of this brings us back to Zechariah 14. The covenantal blessings and cursings apply to us today. I do not pretend to know how this plays out practically. Certainly the covenant has been reshaped and transformed by Christ’s work. But as Zechariah testifies regarding the nations, for those who do not worship the LORD, the plague of drought remains a curse (Zech. 14:16-19). For those, however, that would serve the God of the covenant, rivers of living water are promised to them (Zech. 14:8, Rev. 22).

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell deceased

Jerry Falwell was found dead this morning... read about it here.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Scriptural Speculations #1: Zechariah 14

As I mentioned before, I am part of a Bible study group that is currently discussing the Book of the Revelation. Everybody in the group other than myself is premillennial, if not fully Dispensational, by default, as is most everyone in the American Evangelical church scene these days. Nonetheless the group has been welcoming to my different perspective, and our conversations have been quite enjoyable.

I came in late to the group. They had been meeting for a while before I joined, and had already made it to Revelation 16. The book the group is using as a guide is David Jeremiah’s Escape the Coming Night. The book is a standard, popular-level Dispensational treatment of Revelation. And as much as I have benefited from Dr. Jeremiah’s radio program through the years, we differ significantly on many things, of which the Book of the Revelation is one. To put it less politely, I think Dr. Jeremiah misses the point of Revelation entirely. It isn’t about the events beginning with the rapture and continuing through the end of the world. Rather, the book is about the events surrounding the dissolution of the Old Covenant world, connected with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

We just finished ch. 16 of the book, which corresponds with ch. 16 of Revelation. In this chapter Dr. Jeremiah, as other Dispensationalists do, runs through the Old Testament picking out passages about destruction here and there, and links them together to create his schema for the future. One section that figures prominently is the last few chapters of Zechariah. I don’t have the entire Bible figured out (who does?) but I have some thoughts on Zechariah 14 in particular that come from my own preterist perspective. I wrote these up and sent them to our fearless Bible study leader, but he has yet to respond, which I hope is not a sign of just how convoluted my ideas are. I’ve thought for awhile about starting a blog series entitled “Scriptural Speculations” though, and I figured that maybe this wouldn’t be a bad way to start that series. The following is rough, in that it is simply the email as sent with very little editing. I hope it’s possible to follow it anyway. Also, these thoughts are far from conclusive. I haven’t read any commentaries on the passages in question, so I don’t know if any scholars would agree with me. And if you the reader have any thoughts, I welcome them, so please post them in the comments or email them to me.

The questions we’ve been dealing with involve Typology in relation to prophecy. It seems to me that most Dispies like to reserve Typology to the person and work of Christ. In fact, growing up in the Plymouth Brethren, I was taught that Typology in Scripture only functions in relation to Christ. In other words, there are no types that find their antitypes in, for instance, the Church. So I was taught that Israel in the Old Testament couldn’t refer to the Church in the New Testament. But when I became Reformed, I realized that this was wrong.

As a preterist, I would tend to interpret such passages in relation to the first century, as you know. What happens in this approach is that statements that refer to Israel are interpreted as referring to the Church. Also, statements that refer to the nations refer to the enemies of the Church, which enemies would include unbelieving Israel. Of course, this is overly simplistic. Jesus is the True Israel, and the church is Israel only through Him. So Israel could refer to Christ Himself rather than the church.

The thoughts I have refer specifically to Zech. 14. Simply put, it seems to me that the parallel to Zech. 14 (or, at least, one parallel) is found in John 7, and possibly part of John 8. There are two parallels that cause me to believe this. First is the context of John 7. The context is the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles, as it’s sometimes called). The related passage in Zechariah is Zech. 14:16-19. The second parallel is John 7:37-39:

37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

It is interesting to consider what comes right after this as well:

40 When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” 41 Others said, “This is the Christ.”

The parallel to this is Zech. 14:8-9:

8 On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter.

9 And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.

See also Ezekiel 47:1 and following, as well as Genesis 2:10-14. Also to consider here is the river that flowed into (or out of – I don’t recall) O.T. Jerusalem (I couldn’t find a text reference for this one). All of these, I would suggest, are parallel, along with Revelation 22:1, 17. The point to be made here, which is typified in each case, is that wherever God dwells, from there, water of life flows out into the whole world. And the water is connected with the Spirit of God. This is often related to the historic defense of Baptismal Regeneration. The picture here is also one of life flowing out to the rest of the world from the people of God, which in the OT meant Israel, but in the NT means the Church. So today, the fountainhead of salvation is to be found in the Church. There’s a rabbit trail I could follow further here, but I’ll resist the temptation.

If you want to carry the parallels with Zechariah 14 over into John 8, one more parallel is possible, and that’s in John 8:12, right after the controversial beginning of the chapter:

12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The parallel in Zechariah is in 14:6-7:

6 On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. 7 And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light.

There is little else to consider in looking at John 7-8, because most of the text deals with Jesus defending Himself as a true prophet from God and the various discussions among the Jews about the genuineness of His profession. Nonetheless, I would consider these parallels significant, and would suggest that Jesus is here at least saying, “The fulfillment of Zechariah 14 is coming in conjunction with my ministry.” Now I think part of that came in His incarnation and establishing of the Church (the establishing of the kingdom, Zech. 14:6-11, and the coming of the nations to Jerusalem, Zech. 14:16-21), and part of it came in the destruction of Jerusalem as a covenantal judgment, which included the rescue of the Church (Zech. 14:1-5, 12-15). Part of this might also be projected into the future coming of Christ, depending on how one reads Revelation 22 (see Rev. 22:1-5; parallel Rev. 22:1 with Zech. 14:8 and parallel Rev. 22:5 with Zech.14:7). I don’t really know how all the details play out, but I haven’t spent the time that figuring all of this out would require.

Two other passages you might want to consider in connection with this is Ezra 3:1-7 and Nehemiah 8:13-18. In each case, the Feast of Booths is specified as something key that the Israelites resumed observing in the process of returning from Exile into the land. For Israel, returning from physical Exile also meant returning from spiritual Exile. Jesus, in calling to “anyone” to come to Him, was calling for a return from spiritual Exile. This was true specifically for Israel, though the call was different from Ezra and Nehemiah’s days, in that the call was also now open in a new way to the nations. Cf. again Zech. 14:16 & following.

Book Review

The Victory of Christ's Kingdom: An Introduction to Postmillennialism by John Jefferson Davis, published by Canon Press, 1996

Postmillennialism is the view of the end times that holds that Jesus Christ will return bodily to the earth after an unprecedented period of righteousness and blessing on the earth, which period of time is commonly called by theologians "the millennium", based on Revelation 20:1-6. While it is still an uncommon view in the church, it has received something of a resurgence in recent years, especially in Reformed and Presbyterian circles. After wrestling with the various positions on the end times for a few years, I came to embrace Postmillennialism as the view taught by Scripture. I recently joined a Bible study group that is studying the Book of the Revelation and, being the only non-premillennialist in the group, I thought I would read Davis's book to brush up on the topic. It was a worthwhile read.

The Victory of Christ's Kingdom is an abbreviated form of a book written by Davis and originally published by Baker Book House in 1986, which was entitled Christ's Victorious Kingdom: Postmillennialism Reconsidered. This version was put back into print last year by Solid Ground Christian Books, and may be purchased here. I have not read the original, and so am unable to comment on it or to compare the two books. At about half the length of the original, one would certainly expect The Victory of Christ's Kingdom to go into less depth than did the original publication. It is, nonetheless, a good overview of the Postmillennial position.

The book is simply divided up into five chapters: 1. Introduction; 2. The Witness of the Old Testament; 3. The Witness of the New Testament; 4. Contrary Texts in the New Testament; and 5. Summary and Conclusions. In the Introduction, Davis gives a brief summary of the doctrine. He then seeks to clear up misunderstandings about the position. I found this to be one of the most helpful parts of the book. I have often heard Fundamentalists and Evangelicals categorize and align Postmillenialism with notions of Evolutionary progress, Liberalism, the "Social Gospel", Universalism, and "Manifest Destiny". But Davis puts all of these false understandings to rest, showing that the Postmillennialism he advocates is fully orthodox. He then traces Postmillennial thinking since the Reformation. It would have been helpful if he had discussed elements of Postmillennialism that existed in the church prior to Calvin, but the period he did cover was helpful nonetheless.

In the next two chapters, Davis does exactly as the titles state. First, he shows how the Kingdom in the O.T. is represented as growing and overwhelming the whole earth. Then he shows how those O.T. texts find their culmination in and through the work of Jesus the King. While the book is too short for Davis to deal with every related text, the outline he sketches demonstrates convincingly the position that the postmillennial scheme most accurately represents the Biblical text.

If there is a fault to the book, one finds that fault in chapter 4, where Davis seeks to address texts that are commonly cited by opponents of Postmillennialism in criticism of the doctrine. Here, Davis shows his own failure to see the basic preteristic structure of the New Testament. When dealing with the Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24, Mk. 13, and Lk. 21), Davis speaks as a preterist, assigning the content of these texts to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d. (pp. 76-78). He does the same when dealing with some texts that suggest that few people "in the end" will be saved (pp. 79-80). And yet he is inconsistent, as he fails to make use of a preteristic reading when dealing with texts that suggest the nearness of Christ's return, as well as other texts. I would suggest that the preterist reading of the texts he deals with are the most natural reading, and that it is possible to read the texts that way without falling into the heresy known as hyper- or full-preterism.

So the book isn't perfect. Working on a five-star grading scale, I would give the book three and a half stars, with a part of me itching to push that up to four stars. I consider the absence of a preteristic understanding pretty significant, eventhough the book overall is fantastic. In fact, I would even recommend the book for those looking for an introduction to Postmillennialism. It's short, and so it's a quick read. But for those seeking a fuller understanding of how to read the Bible, following up this book with a good preterist work is imperative.

For those interested, I am happy to announce the reprinting of two classic preterist works, both by the late David Chilton. The first is entitled Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion. The second, The Days of Vengeance, is Chilton's commentary on the Book of the Revelation. Both have been available for free online at www.freebooks.com for a while now. But for those who find sitting at a computer to read or printing off lots of pages a hassle, bound copies of the books are now available. They may be purchased from www.americanvision.org.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Francis Beckwith

Francis Beckwith, who was until recently the president of the Evangelical Theological Society, has with his wife departed from Protestantism to join the Roman Catholic Church. Read his explanation of it here.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Pluralism and worship

The following is an interesting quote from Peter L. Berger:

Every human society has its own corpus of officially accredited wisdom, the beliefs and values that most people take for granted as self-evidently true. Every human society has institutions and functionaries whose task it is to represent this putative truth, to transmit it to each new generation, to engage in rituals that reaffirm it, and sometimes to deal (at least in words) with those who are benighted or wicked enough to deny it. In most societies in history this has been a relatively easy matter, because there was only one set of beliefs and values, a unified and coherent worldview that everybody knew and that almost everybody took for granted. Modern societies, however, share with the Hellenistic world the complicating factor of pluralism: There are competing beliefs and values, there is more than one worldview. This pluralistic situation usually forces on people a certain degree of tolerance, but it also sharpens the cognitive dissonances and therefore introduces an element of fanaticism into the quarrel. This co-existence of tolerance and fanaticism is an important characteristic of contemporary America…. The point is that the various efforts by Christians to accommodate to the "wisdom of the world" in this situation become a difficult, frantic, and more than a little ridiculous affair: Each time that one has, after an enormous effort, managed to adjust the faith to the prevailing culture, that culture turns around and changes. W. R. Inge, the Anglican theologian, put it thus: "He who would marry the spirit of the age soon finds himself a widower." Recent Christian theology is well populated with bewildered and understandably resentful widowers. (A Far Glory: The Quest for Faith in an Age of Credulity, pp.9-10)

What is more interesting is how the average Christian responds when he or she reads a quote like this. It is our tendency at this point to run this quote, like everything else, through the grid of our minds, and to filter out anything that doesn't make sense. For most of us (that is, those of us that haven't studied Cultural Anthropology), this means that the part about "engaging in rituals" gets filtered out and chucked in the garbage. After all, we don't engage in rituals – or so we think. Rituals are things done by occultists and primitive, indigenous people groups. But this thinking is the remaining result of Rationalistic Modern thinking. Every culture has rituals, whether or not it recognizes it. And every religious group has rituals as well. While we wouldn't tend to refer to them as such (there again, that's the Modern mind at work), all acts of worship involve rituals. Even those groups that try to steer clear of any sort of ordered worship (such as the Plymouth Brethren, the Quakers, and the various Pentecostal and Charismatic groups) end up creating some measure of ritual. To reference Father Alexander Schmemann again, man is a liturgical creature, and this is just another way of saying that he is a creature that tends to create and follow rituals. In this, he is simply following his Creator, Who from the beginning of the world reveals Himself as a Being Who likes rituals.

This brings up a couple of thoughts in light of Berger's quote. For one thing, what we do in worship matters. If rituals themselves (and not just the words we speak during them) communicate truth claims, then what we do in worship should be shaped by the truth – specifically, by Holy Scripture. And therefore any sort of argument that says that what we do in worship is arbitrary is entirely false.

Secondly, the issue of Antithesis is important here. Simply put, there is no such thing as "neutral ground". There are things that are true, thing that are false, and nothing in between. Similarly, there are things that are suitable for worship, things that are not, and nothing in between. This is not to say that there is no place for preference, or cultural considerations. God created a world of variety, and songs that may be fit for one cultural setting might be out of place in another. But the question here isn't whether or not the song is appropriate. The question is whether or not we're able to handle it. One day Christians born and raised in North Carolina will understand and be able to appreciate those songs that are appropriate for worship and are used for worship in Africa. But that day is a long distance ahead. The church as a whole just hasn't matured to that point yet.

And thirdly, it is inappropriate to shape worship according to the transitory fascinations of a culture not shaped by a Christian worldview. Ungodly culture is constantly changing, running back and forth from one extreme to another, a manifestation of the unbeliever's search to find peace anywhere but in Christ. Culture shaped by mature, Christ-worshipping people, is characterized by change as well, but it is typically a slow, thoughtful, and deliberate change. This is not to say that Christians should never make any sharp turns. But sharp turns are out of the ordinary, and should only take place when one is about to drive off a cliff. In other words, drastic changes influenced as such by Christians only come about in a culture when the culture has so departed from the ways of God that drastic changes are the only things that will save it. The key thing to remember here is that we who know Christ are no transitory people, but are the meek who will inherit the earth.

So what does this mean for Christian worship? The main thing to consider here, I think, is the question of worship music. More and more churches are, in the struggle to keep people in the pews, doing away with the old hymns in favor of "Contemporary Worship Music" (CWM). (Of course, they're also doing away with hymnals and pews, but that's another matter that, though related, I'll leave to the side for now.) But CWM, aside from being a great commercial ploy (I see overturned tables in my mind), is shaped on forms of music that are transitory in nature. One need only go back and listen to some Maranatha Praise albums from the 1980's to realize how temporal CWM is. As an illustration of Berger's point, this is a point where the pop culture-intoxicated church is struggling to keep up. And no matter how hard we try, we can't "keep up", because as long as pop culture sets the agenda, it will keep changing, and we'll never catch up to it.

So what is the answer? The answer is that we cease to be the world's slaves. We are Christ's representatives in the world, and He is working through us to establish His kingdom in its fullness. So as his representatives, we, the church, set the agenda. The world won't follow, you say? Some will follow. But for those who don't, that is their loss. We follow Christ. Those who will not will be left to the fate they have chosen.

On a more practical note, we need to seek out more permanent forms of music for the church's worship. The church has a vast history of hymnody to draw from if we will only seek it out. There are lots of really bad hymns, which somehow have been the popular ones over the past hundred or so years. These need to be disposed of and replaced with better hymns. And there is a place for the writing of new music as well. But the new music worth praising God with will be written in a way that shows it was informed and shaped by more historic forms of music.

Many books have been written in recent years on these subjects, and my brief thoughts couldn't possibly solve any problems. I hope, though, that you, the reader, will be inspired to think more carefully about how you approach worship, as well as what kind of church you attend. God is honored when we meet Him where we are. Let us still seek to give Him the best we can. But also, worship shapes us. Let us seek to worship God in the situation that will most make us like Christ.