Hymnus Deo

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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Contemporary Ritualism

One of my first significant steps out of the Plymouth Brethren, Bible Church background of my youth was a visit to an Evangelical Covenant church when I was living in New Hampshire. A co-worker attended there, and asked me to go with her one Sunday, in order to sing and play guitar on a couple of numbers during the service. It was a bit foreign to me, particularly due to the carefully laid-out order of worship. In a later conversation with the chaplain of the ministry I was working at, the chaplain asked me what I thought of the service. "It was okay," I said, "except for the liturgy." "Everybody has a liturgy, even the Plymouth Brethren," he said. Looking at his watch and pretending he was in a Brethren worship service, he said, "Brother Bob should be standing up in three, two, one, and there he goes," referring to a man standing to lead the congregation, presumably spontaneously led by the Holy Spirit. I realized how right he was. Though the attempt is to be spontaneous, that can only be achieved to a degree. God made man to be a creature of habit, of ritual, of liturgy. This is a good thing, and we naturally look to create order in every aspect of life. Even the free-form approach of the Brethren has a certain structure - at a certain time the meeting begins, it ends at a certain time, the bread and the cup are distributed at a certain point, and so on. If spontaneity were a sign of genuine worship, why can't this order also be counted as "stifling the Spirit"? The truth is that, far from a Biblical notion of true worship, this spontaneity finds its roots in Revivalism and 19th century Romanticism, and not Scripture. God is a God of order, and to assert that structure is somehow unspiritual is contrary to the Bible. Yet the idea continues to be propagated in contemporary circles. A contemporary church can cry out against rituals and yet have a specific order of worship every Sunday. Every contemporary church, if it really is a church, observes the Christian rituals of baptism, the Lord's Supper, and preaching. If they are Christian, they pray, and most often end their prayers with the liturgical "in Jesus' name, Amen." They pray before their meals, and have their "quiet time" regularly. And praise God that they do. Order is discipline, and shows reverence to God and to those around us. One can cling to cliches like a security blanket and decry the "ritualism" of "all those traditional churches", or "all those denominations" out there, as if they were the only ones that could fall into the error of cold, sterile worship. I would suggest that more careful thought on the matter is in order. It may very well be that those cliches are the worst form of ritualism of all.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Meditative Monotony of Gardening

Many gardeners will agree that hand-weeding is not the terrible drudgery that it is often made out to be. Some people find in it a kind of soothing monotony. It leaves their minds free to develop the plot for their next novel or to perfect the brilliant repartee with which they should have encountered a relative's latest example of unreasonableness. -- Christopher Lloyd

Sunday, March 18, 2012

"Our Father"

Was struck by this quote from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones read by Michael Horton on the White Horse Inn today. Dr. Lloyd-Jones is commenting on the Lord's Prayer:

"Our Father." Yes. But because of our debased conception of fatherhood, he hastens to say, "Our Father, Which art in heaven." The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the kind of Father we have. But there are many people in this world today, alas, to whom the idea of fatherhood is not one of love. Imagine a little boy who's the son of a father who is a drunkard and a wife-beater, and who's nothing but a cruel beast. That little boy knows nothing in life but constant, and undeserved thrashings and kickings. He sees his father spend all his money on himself, while he himself has to starve. That is his idea of fatherhood, and there are many. If you tell him that God is his father and leave it to that, it's not very helpful, and it's not very kind. The poor boy of necessity has a wrong idea of fatherhood. That is his notion of a father, a man who behaves like that. So our human, sinful notions of fatherhood need constant theological correction.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Lenten Gardener

Every experienced Christian gardener knows that there is a spiritual spring which comes just as surely as nature's spring. The Lenten spring is God's invitation to prayer, fasting, penance. Like the deep-rooted thistle weed, some of our worst habits withstand all but the most persistent, persevering, and strenuous exercise. A quick pull on the root, however, will not do the trick, nor will an aggressive chop of the hoe. Patience is needed, and the humble willingness to drop down on one's knees and work carefully with the hand fork and trowel. The Christian gardener patiently picks sin from the soul's soil and cultivates it with care and attention to the tender new growth of faith. The Christian gardener also respects the fact that God appoints each soul to be "the sort of garden it is to be." "Your job," Underhill admonishes, "is strictly confined to making [your soul] as good as it can be of its sort." Some of us will be contemplative in the manner of a rose garden, and others are more earthy and restless, like a potato patch. -- Vigen Guroian

Sunday, March 04, 2012

"An Epistle to the Reverend Mr. George Whitfield" by Charles Wesley

The following is Charles Wesley's poem "An Epistle to the Reverend Mr. George Whitfield". Wesley wrote this as a reflection on the separation of fellowship he and his brother John had from Whitfield, stemming from their debates on salvation and the sovereignty of God. Separation in a sinful world is often inevhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifitable. But nothing is so beautiful as the restoration of fellowship (Psalm 133; 2 Cor. 2:5-11, 7:8-11).

Those who wish to learn more about the relationship between Whitfield and the Wesley's can check out this article:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1993/issue38/3834.html

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Come on, my Whitfield! (since the strife is past
And friends at first are friends again at last,)
Our hands, and hearts, and counsels let us join
In mutual league, to' advance the work Divine,
Our one contention now, our single aim,
To pluck poor souls as brands out of the flame;
To spread the victory of that bloody Cross,
And gasp our latest breath in the Redeemer's cause.

Too long, alas! we gave to Satan place,
When party-zeal put on an angel's face;
Too long we listen'd to the cozening fiend,
Whose trumpet sounded, "For the faith contend!"
With hasty blindfold rage, in error's night,
How did we with our fellow-soldiers fight!
We could not then our Father's children know,
But each mistook his brother for his foe.
"Foes to the truth, can you in conscience spare?
"Tear them, (the tempter cried,) in pieces, tear!"
So thick the darkness, so confused the noise,
We took the stranger's for the Shepherd's voice;
Rash nature waved the controversial sword,
On fire to fight the battles of the Lord;
Fraternal love from every breast was driven,
And bleeding charity return'd to heaven.

The Saviour saw our strife with pitying eye,
And cast a look that made the shadows fly:
Soon as the day-spring in His presence shone,
We found the two fierce armies were but one;
Common our hope, and family, and name,
Our arms, our Captain, and our crown the same;
Enlisted all beneath Immanuel's sign,
And purchased every soul with precious blood Divine.

The let us cordially again embrace,
Nor e'er infringe the league of gospel-grace;
Let us in Jesus' name to battle go,
And turn our arms against the common foe;
Fight side by side beneath our Captain's eye,
Chase the Philistines, on their shoulders fly,
And, more than conquerors, in the harness die.

For whether I am born to "blush above,"
On earth suspicious of electing love,
Or you, o'erwhelm'd with honourable shame,
To shout the universal Saviour's name,
It matters not; if, all our conflicts past,
Before the great white throne we meet at last:
Our only care, while sojourning below,
Our real faith by real love to show:
To blast the aliens' hope, and let them see
How friends of jarring sentiments agree:
Not in a party's narrow banks confined,
Not by a sameness of opinions join'd,
But cemented with the Redeemer's blood,
And bound together in the heart of God.

Can we forget from whence our union came,
When first we simply met in Jesus' name?
The name mysterious of the God Unknown,
Whose secret love allured, and drew us on
Through a long, lonely, legal wilderness,
To find the promised land of gospel peace.
True yokefellows, we then agreed to draw
The' intolerable burden of the law;
And jointly labouring on with zealous strife,
Strengthen'd each other's hands to work for life;
To turn against the world our steady face,
And, valiant for the truth, enjoy disgrace.

Then, when we served our God through fear alone,
Our views, our studies, and our hearts were one;
No smallest difference damp'd the social flame:
In Moses' school we thought, and spake the same:
And must we, now in Christ, with shame confess,
Our love was greater when our light was less?
When darkly through a glass with servile awe,
We first the spiritual commandment saw,
Could we not then, our mutual love to show,
Through fire and water for each other go?
We could:- we did:- In a strange land I stood,
And beckon'd thee to cross the' Atlantic flood:
With true affection wing'd, thy ready mind
Left country, fame, and ease, and friends behind;
And, eager all heaven's counsels to explore,
Flew through the watery world and grasp'd the shore.

Nor did I linger, at my friend's desire,
To tempt the furnace, and abide the fire:
When suddenly sent forth, from the highways
I call'd poor outcasts to the feast of grace;
Urged to pursue the work by thee begun,
Through good and ill report I still rush'd on,
Nor felt the fire of popular applause,
Nor fear'd the torturing flame in such a glorious cause.

Ah! wherefore did we ever seem to part,
Or clash in sentiment, while one in heart?
What dire device did the old Serpent find,
To put asunder those whom God had join'd?
From folly and self-love opinion rose,
To sever friends who never yet were foes;
To baffle and divert our noblest aim,
Confound our pride, and cover us with shame;
To make us blush beneath her short-lived power,
and glad the world with one triumphant hour.

But lo! the snare is broke, the captive's freed,
By faith on all the hostile powers we tread,
And crush through Jesus' strength the Serpent's head.
Jesus hath cast the cursed Accuser down,
Hath rooted up the tares by Satan sown:
Kindled anew the never-dying flame,
And re-baptized our souls into His name.
Soon as the virtue of His name we feel,
The storm of strife subsides, the sea is still,
All nature bows to His benign command,
And two are one in His almighty hand.
One in His hand, O may we still remain,
Fast bound with love's indissoluble chain;
(That adamant which time and death defies,
That golden chain which draws us to the skies!)
His love the tie that binds us to His throne,
His love the bond that perfects us in one;
His love, (let all the ground of friendship see,)
His only love constrains our hearts to' agree,
And gives the rivet of Eternity!