Hymnus Deo

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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Friday, October 31, 2008

And...

...a Happy Reformation Day to all! Be sure and thank God for Martin Luther in your prayers today.

Medieval Christmas

I've loved Kemper Crabb's music since a friend introduced me to his "Vigil" album a couple of years ago. Apparently, PBS station KQED is releasing and airing a video featuring Kemper and friends performing Medieval Christmas music. Here's an excerpt. Also see http://www.kempercrabb.net/ for more of Kemper's music.

The Thief on the Cross WAS Baptized

Everyone assumes that the thief on the cross who repented wasn't baptized (Luke 23:39-43). But who's to say he wasn't? John's baptism came a few years prior to this (as recent as three years prior, as Scripture tells us). And Scripture also tells us that "Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him" (that is, John), and that “they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins“ (Matthew 3:5-6). Now we may reasonably assert that “all” doesn’t mean “all” in a fully inclusive sense here (unless one disagrees with limited atonement and therefore realizes the consequence of agreeing with this assertion). But Matthew is using hyperbole here, in order to indicate that the vast majority of people from these places went out to be baptized by John. So how do we know that the thief on the cross wasn't also baptized by John? And if we insist on taking “all” in a wooden, literalistic sense here, thus ignoring the standard conventions of normal language, then the thief on the cross must have been baptized.

Some scholars, however, propose that John's baptism wasn't the same as Christian baptism, which Jesus instituted at His ascension. While this may be true, I don't think one can reasonably argue that there wasn't a continuity between the two. Even then, one may reasonably assume that the thief was a Jew, and therefore would have been circumcised. As Colossians 2 tells us, baptism is the New Covenant sign of initiation into God‘s people, replacing circumcision, which was the Old Covenant sign (Col. 2:11-15). If he wasn’t a Jew, then how did he know who the Messiah was to be, or that Jesus was going to come into His Kingdom (Lk. 23:39-42)? Such, it seems, would have required more than a passing knowledge with the Jewish Scriptures, and therefore he must have had a Jewish upbringing. Therefore, whether he had the New Covenant sign, or just the Old Covenant sign, it appears the thief on the cross had the sign of the covenant.

It seems to me, then, that we paedobaptists have simply copped to the argument of the Believers baptists. They say that baptism isn’t necessary for salvation, noting that the thief on the cross wasn’t yet “born again”. But for us to use the same argument is simply to consent to the idea that one must be regenerated before he is baptized. I see no place where Scripture requires this, and it seems the thief on the cross is actually irrelevant to the discussion after all.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Concerning Halloween

This Friday I am planning, Lord willing, to celebrate Reformation Day with some Presbyterian friends. But, in contrast with many Evangelical Christians, I won't be doing so as some sort of protest against Halloween. All Hallows' Eve is a Christian holiday, and though some observe it in an anti-Christian way, the holiday itself is not by any means inherently bad. For a more in depth consideration of the holiday, see this article by James Jordan:

http://www.biblicalhorizons.com/open-book/no-28-concerning-halloween/

"We are obviously separated by denominational differences."

"It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" is on TV right now, and I just found out, a little bit late. I have it on DVD, so it's no big loss. I still enjoy it, even as an adult. But beyond being fun, I find it to be an interesting commentary on the nature of belief and unbelief. Next time you watch it, think about this, and listen out for the line above, stated by Charlie Brown, in reaction to Linus's belief in the Great Pumpkin. What Charles Schulz, himself a liberal Presbyterian, was getting at in this story, I don't entirely know. But it's apparent that he intended it as some sort of religious commentary.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Beauty of Worship

Churches are best for Prayer, that have least light:
To see God only, I go out of sight:
And to 'scape stormy days, I choose
An Everlasting night.

--John Donne, A Hymn to Christ, At the Author's Last Going to Germany


I was off work today, so I spent the afternoon running errands. Amidst necessary stops, I took the time to drop by a couple of Christian stores (formerly known as Christian book stores) and check out their wares. Christmas merchandise was already in abundance, of course, for those who might be ready to skip past any Holy Days between now and that most covetous of days, December 25th.

Christmas and all its trappings are an interesting mixture of good and bad. There's the cheesy and sentimental, and then there are those things that reflect the greatest elements of Christian art through the centuries. And yet the things I saw for sale simply reflects Christianity in our time. The Christian church today is a mixture of good and bad in all areas, just as it is of beautiful art and ugly art. At Christmas, however, good art tends to step out of the shadows a bit more than it does the rest of the year, and this always strikes me as a bit strange. Why do we turn to traditional music more at this time of year, and ignore it the rest of the year? Why do we mail out Christmas cards featuring traditional, Renaissance-type paintings of the Nativity, but live in the realm of cheesy contemporary Christian art the rest of the year?

I think there are various things that have led to our practices. Dickens's A Christmas Carol has so captured the American mind that we immediately identify things Victorian with Christmas. Also, there's still some consciousness, thankfully, that Christmas is a special time of year, being the celebration of our Lord's birth. If only we celebrated His resurrection with such fanfare!

And while the Christmas hymns we are familiar with are generally good hymns, the other hymns most of us grew up with in the church were derived from the Revivalism of the 19th century, and were therefore pretty hokey. No wonder Contemporary Christian music has become the norm, as hymns are on the out. Sadly, the best hymns, which come from the Lutheran, Reformed, and Anglican traditions, are fairly unknown.

We also live with the results of the iconoclasm and anti-aestheticism that emerged from some parts of the Reformation. And then there's the Rationalism of Modernism, that sees Propositionalism as the only reasonable way of attaining truth, therefore looking down on artistic forms of expression.

There's also the fact that Christmas really is a High Holyday, and actually should be celebrated in a grander fashion than the Lower Holydays. But while this is true, I'm amazed at how little visual art there actually is in Evangelical churches throughout the year. I think, for instance, of the megachurch where I attend Bible study once a week with some friends. The building is large, and looks like a business building. (A Chinese exchange student I met there, who was visiting the church for the first time, even commented on this to me. "This doesn't look like a church to me," he said. To think someone from Communist China knows this, and we don't!) As one walks down the hallways, one is struck by just how bare the walls are. Now if this were based on some sort of Puritan commitment to the Second Commandment, then I would understand it. But based on my experience with Evangelicals, I have my doubts that this has anything to do with it. There are sometimes feelings of anti-Catholicism, no doubt, based on some individuals' Catholic upbringing, along with a general anti-traditionalism. But I generally find that Evangelicals have never even considered such things. The determining factors, it seems to me, are Christian Commercialism and Pragmatism. And if Christmas is any indication, then this in fact is the case. For as soon as the season arrives, wreaths and Christmas trees are in abundance in the church building.

While I still struggle myself with certain implications of the Second Commandment, I still believe there is a great need for a return to beauty in the Church. While this should take place in part in the Christian home, it should also return in a significant way to our church buildings. Catholic and Orthodox churches still lead the way in maintaining the great artistic heritage of the Church, but, sadly, there have even been failures in these two bodies (in Catholicism more than Orthodoxy). We need to reacquaint ourselves with the history of art in the church, and, drawing off of that history, to reintroduce beauty to our worship, as well as the rest of our lives. I long for a recovery of the church building as a place of reverent worship, full of beauty, not only on Sunday mornings, but throughout the week.

I used to go occasionally to a local Catholic church after work to pray, until one evening when I found the doors locked. I later found out that, due to the increase in crime in our city, the church had had to begin locking the doors at six o'clock. I had gone to the Catholic church because its doors were open at unusual hours, unlike the rest of the churches in the city. But its beauty was still a factor. If a Baptist church had had its doors unlocked as well, I doubt I would have gone to pray in it.

Our God is the Author of All Beauty, and is Himself a Beautiful God. Therefore He should be worshiped in a beautiful way. But since these things are true, then man has an inborn desire, though marred by sin, for beauty. More than something superficial and secondary, beauty is something man needs. When we force believers to worship in an ugly way, we deprive them of an important part of their sanctification. For the sake of the whole church, then, a return to beauty is a must. But so long as we take Christian Commercialism as our cue, we will end up with mixed results at best.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Facebook

I had tried Facebook once before, and didn't care for it. But as it seems most of my friends are on there, I caved in and joined again. If you, the reader, are on there as well, shoot me an add request.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

What Would Jigsaw Do?

I'm a fairly squeamish person, and so horror movies don't generally figure into my regular media consumption. I have seen the trailer for the latest SAW movie, however, and was a bit surprised at the rather daring nature of it. The trailer doesn't show much, of course, as there is little in the film that could legally be shown on broadcast TV. The part that caught my attention was that the letters "WWJD" appear at the end of the trailer, and the viewer is made to know that this stands for "What Would Jigsaw Do?"

Of course, the "What Would Jesus Do?" marketing phenomenon happened about ten years ago, and as far as I know, is fairly dead in Contemporary Christian circles. And we're the better off now that it's dead. Others before me have rightly pointed out that the movement was a mere calling people to the Law at best, and to self-salvation at its worst. But the fact that we are so far past that part of Evangelical history, and that the makers of the latest SAW movie are using it for their advertising, suggests that the SAW creators don't have a clue of what's going on in Evangelical circles. On one hand, this could mean that the SAW creators are living somewhere that Christians are fairly rare. This, of course, would mean Hollywood. On the other hand, this also suggests that Evangelicals haven't done anything really significant in about ten years to cause people such as the SAW creators think that they've moved beyond this fad.

So this is another case where the Church is to blame. The SAW creators are smart. They know that if they piss off Evangelicals, then we'll raise a fuss that will find its way into the mainstream media. That will bring free advertising, and they'll sell more movie tickets as a result. I'm not particularly interested in giving them that kind of attention. But I'm sure I don't have to. Some Evangelicals somewhere who think they can save the world through brewing controversy over this will do it themselves. Meanwhile, the Evangelical Church is still shown to have little impact on the world around it. In this case, I don't think we're being made fun of because we are making an impact, though that may be true in some small way. It seems to me we're being made fun of moreso because we're silly and immature, and therefore we invite the mockery.

But I'm not angry that they're making fun of Evangelicals in doing this. Heck, I make fun of Evangelicals myself, and that on a regular basis. (The point may be made, however, that it's a little different for me to do it. It's the difference between making fun of one's own brother, and somebody outside of the family making fun of him. The former can; the latter better be careful.) I am angry, however, at the replacement of the name of Jesus with "Jigsaw". That is blasphemy, though it might not have been intended as such. Whoever came up with the idea of using the “WWJD” logo for the movie is blind, foolish, and dead in their sins. So one can hardly take them seriously. It may be best that, as Elijah did at Mount Carmel and the Psalmist spoke of God doing in Psalm 2, we simply laugh at the stupidity of the SAW creators and mock them in return. They think they know what true terror is. But the truth is that they don’t even have a clue. And unless they repent, they will one day find themselves victims in the most terrifying horror movie of all.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda

It means "the Church Reformed, and always reforming". It is a regular statement by those of us who consider ourselves to follow in the footsteps of the 16th and 17th century Reformers. Within the Reformed church, however, there's a fair bit of difference on what the "always reforming" part means. For some, I'm sure it simply has reference to moral reformation. For them, the idea of any sort of theological change is mostly if not entirely out of the question. As one Congregational Puritan friend said to me recently, "It's not as if we can have a new Reformation every generation!" And to some degree, that's a true statement. It would be incredibly strange to have a theological and cultural change of such a grand scale every forty years or so. Nonetheless, there have been constant shifts ever since the Reformation in the Western Church, and to pretend that the Western Church hasn't changed since then is simply historical ignorance.

And then there's the whole question of who's truly Reformed. This can be witnessed taking place not only in Christendom more broadly, but in any social order. A general consensus is formed on a set of beliefs, but before long differences arise, forming two or more new factions. A split takes place, and whoever is the largest group left gets to keep the name, irrespective of whether or not they are the ones who truly embodied the principles originally set forth.

It seems clear to me that the question of who's truly Reformed has never ceased being asked since the 16th century. Whether it's debates over the Lord's Supper (as took place between the early Reformers), debates over Ecclesiology (as took place at the Westminster Assembly), debates over the Atonement (as took place in Scotland and Wales in the 19th century), or debates over paedocommunion (as have taken place in our day), disagreement over what it is to be truly Reformed seems to be inevitable. And to hearken back to a glorious pristine time early in the Reformation is to engage in mythmaking.

Having said all of that, I recognize that there has historically been a general understanding of what it means to be Reformed. The standard has been the Confessions and Catechisms first and foremost, as expressions of what the Reformed churches believed Holy Scripture to teach. If one can for the moment put to the side the constant disagreements between the Reformed on various matters, not to mention the differences between the Continental Reformed standards and the Westminster Standards, and the changes made to the Westminster Standards by the American church - one can still find a general consensus that can be called "Reformed".

It's something of a constant struggle for me. I've been a member of the Anglican Church for two years. For some, that would be enough to consider me Reformed. But then, the theological positions of most of the clergy in my denomination is Anglo-Catholic. And even though I'm not Anglo-Catholic, and even though Anglo-Catholic teachings and practices are rarely visible in my parish, many would at that point count me as non-Reformed. I personally (at this point, at least) believe Presbyterian ecclesiology to be the most faithful to Scripture, eventhough I'm technically an Anglican. And then there are my other “non-Reformed” views, such as my belief in paedocommunion, and my sympathies with the Federal Vision and New Perspective theologies. There’s the whole question of liturgy. And that’s only part of it. My church friends and acquaintances have no idea all the weird stuff I think about, as I question whether or not we’re missing the boat on some issue or another.

In one sense, I wish I could be plain-vanilla Reformed. John Owen’s theology, passed down from the mount to him by the hand of the Apostle Paul himself. It would be so much easier. I could join a Presbyterian church, and question nothing again for the rest of my life. (Of course, Owen wasn’t a Presbyterian. He was a Congregationalist. But don’t tell the Presbyterians that.) But that would be the lazy way out. God hasn’t allowed me to go that route, and He hasn’t told me why He’s chosen the route for me that He has.

I have a great love of the stories of the struggles of the Scottish Covenanters. One of my favourite books is Jock Purves’s studies of some of the Covenanting martyrs, called Fair Sunshine. When I first read the book, I was more Reformed, and I sided with the Covenanters against the oppressive and murderous Anglican clergy. And now that I’m an Anglican, I still side with the Covenanters. I side with the Covenanters, because I believe they had a right to worship in the way they believed Scripture taught them to. They were the faithful believing party in the conflict, I believe, and not the Anglicans. And yet, in spite of my siding with them, I believe their approach to worship was incorrect. It’s a messy thing. But looking back to the 17th century, I consider myself a Covenanter.

And yet the same is true when looking to the church prior to the Reformation. The early and Medieval church was as full of faulty theology and practice as it was of faithfulness . And this is true of those we would consider heroes of the church. I would have sided with Augustine in his various battles. I would have been a Catholic, in line with the Bishops with their allegiance to the Pope. But I couldn’t side today with certain elements of Augustine’s ecclesiology.

It’s a crisis of identity. When I first became Reformed, I knew what I was. I had a specific theology, specific aesthetics, specific fathers. Now, I’m watching the church and hoping for the best, as I float between various traditions, unwilling to pretend any one group has everything right. I have a theology, which I believe to be in accord with Scripture and the consensus of the Church, even when others disagree with me. I have certain things from various traditions that draw me aesthetically, though the various traditions often aren’t as appreciative of one another as I am with all of them. And I have many fathers, though were they all to live here today, they would have a hard time sitting down to have a beer together without turning their friendly encounter into a brawl. It isn’t a comfortable position to be in. But idolatry of one’s father is still idolatry, and as the first commandment forbids the worship of any other god than Yahweh, discomfort must be my lot for now. The church is ever reforming, according to God’s Providential hand, and so must I.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

V. P. Debate

The Vice-Presidential debate is about halfway through as I write this. I was a big Ron Paul supporter, as the regular readers know, and still would be, were he still running for President. As the months wore on, however, I found myself swayed toward voting for John McCain, not so much because I would be voting for him, as much as I would be voting against Barack Obama. When Sarah Palin was chosen as McCain's VP, that raised other questions, particularly in regard to the question of women in office. Doug Wilson has made several comments about this on his weblog, though I haven't had a chance to read much of what he's said. I'm not as of yet convinced that I should vote for a woman for office. And so I still haven't made up my mind whether or not to vote for McCain. But if I decide I can vote for him with a good conscience, it will be more of a vote for Palin, because of her strong anti-abortion stance. I've been pleased in some of what she's said tonight, particularly those comments that call for less governmental interference in individuals' lives. Nonetheless, she is still a pro-war candidate, supporting a foreign policy that has the U. S. meddling where it has no business to do so. And in one breath she will call for a cut in taxes, while in the next breath she will call for ramping up government education and paying school teachers more. You can't have it both ways, Governor Palin.

But watching the debate right now is a bit of a painful experience. To some degree, it seems to be little more than a big brown nosing session for the prospective VP's respective Presidential candidates. "My candidate rocks, and he rocks more than your candidate!" Also, the debate is so stiff. What happened to the good ole days, when the candidates actually debated (which would actually require them addressing one another directly)? This debate is so formal I feel like I'm watching an extended version of one of their cheesy campaign commercials.

I love, too, how Palin gives these little linguistic tip-offs that she's heavily imbibed on the American Evangelical subculture. My favourite phrase that she's used over and over again is "near and dear to my heart". The only reason I'm still watching the debate is to see if they end it by standing and singing "Shine Jesus Shine".

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Break In

Crime has been increasing in Guilford County for some time now, and it hit home for me today, as my mom's house was broken into.

We've been here since the early 80's, and this is the first time anyone has attempted to break in. My father (far-seeing he was) had an alarm system installed not long after we moved here. He died in January 1985, but we have benefited from the alarm ever since. Twice we had near fires that were detected by the system, and therefore our house was saved. Today, a criminal apparently broke through one of the doors with a crow bar. When he heard the alarm, it seems he wised up real quick and, not desiring the company that was about to visit him, hit the road. He didn't try to take anything. Most importantly, nobody was home at the time, and so no one was hurt. The only real inconvenience we'll have in all this is time I had to take off of work today, the cost of a new door, and my missing Bible study tonight. But there is much to be thankful for. The readers' prayers are desired for my mother and I. We've handled it well so far, though we'll be watching passing cars more carefully from now on. Prayers are also desired for the burglars, whoever they may be, that God may take hold of them and produce saving repentance in them. Jesus died between two thieves, one of whom repented in the last hours of his life, and so whoever is responsible here is not beyond the grace of God. And Jesus Himself came, as Michael Card once sang, "to steal every heart away", and so may he also steal away these thieves' hearts.