The holy stream which circulates around the eucharistic table

The Weekly Communion Project

“Behold, my brethren, the holy stream which circulates around the eucharistic table; love in God to believers–love in believers to God–love in brethren to brethren; all comprised in the higher law, GOD IS LOVE. We are in the spot, of all others, where such affections may be best awakened and promoted; for we are at the cross. Here is the sacrifice of propitiation, in sacramental emblem. Here are the body and blood of Jesus, in visible commemoration. Here is the nearest view, vouchsafed to us this side of heaven, into the secret majesty of Divine perfection. Approach–but with reverence, for your hand is upon the vail, and within is the Holy of Holies.” – J.W. Alexander, Sacramental Discourses (1860), 27.

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Edwards on the Expensiveness of Gospel Blessings

Going through Jonathan Edwards’ Sermons on the Lord’s Supper for my PhD work has been fun. I’m not an Edwards scholar by any means, but I think these sermons capture the pastoral heart of this amazing genius. There are many gems like this one:

But we shall show in some particular instances how gospel provision is well represented by a feast. 1. In the expensiveness of gospel blessings. As feasts are expensive and are provided at the expense of the host, so the provision that God has in the gospel made for our souls in exceedingly expensive. But we have it for nothing; it costs us nothing, but it cost God a great deal …

Never were any feasted at so dear a rate as believers; when they eat and drink, it is a thousand times more costly than what they eat at the tables of princes that is far-fetched and dearly bought. Every crumb of bread that they eat and every drop of wine that they drink are more costly than so much gold or gems

Christ Jesus obtained this provision by victory. He was obliged to fight for it, as it were, up to His knees in blood so that He might obtain it; yea, He waded through a sea of blood to get it for us.

Update in 2020

What happened to this website? For a few years, I took this site off-line and kept it private. Because of various church controversies, I thought it best to just keep out of the fray for a while. Additionally, I was trying to finish up my Ph.D. in historical theology at the Free University of Amsterdam. Hopefully that will be done in the next year!

I’ve decided to bring this site back into the light, with the hopes that there is enough content here to bless and encourage those who read it. There are posts and sites that are more or less historical artifacts at this point. They originated in a context of church debates and controversies, and their usefulness is probably now limited. I have not gone back through the archives to prune and pull weeds. For now, I’m letting everything go live, until I can come back and provide more shape and structure to this site.

I still believe that there are many liturgical and theological treasures in the Reformed tradition. Spending years researching the Reformation, and its developments in the British Isles and the Americas, has only increased my love of this tradition and my desire to help others discover its riches.

There are many wonderful recent publications that deserve to be mentioned here, and I hope to be able to do that in time.

In the meantime, if anything here encourages you, I thank God for that. If anything provokes you and causes you to doubt the sincerity (or orthodoxy) of any contributing writer, please remember the original context of a post, or a link, and realize that this site is more of a historical marker right now. Many rough edges need to be smoothed, and many updates need to be made. I hope that there is still enough here to edify and inspire in the meantime.

Semper reformanda!

Communion & Charity

Why do we celebrate weekly communion? There are many good reasons but one of the most important is one we might not think about often enough—communion with the risen Christ also entails communion with others who are united to him by faith. Union and communion with our Lord leads us into union and communion with our brothers and sisters in the church, and (to a lesser extent) all people. John Calvin highlights this when he writes about the importance of communion. Calvin calls communion the “bond of charity” and explains, “For as the bread, which is there sanctified for the common use of us all, is made of many grains so mixed together that one cannot be discerned from the other, so ought we to be united among ourselves in one indissoluble friendship. What is more, we all receive there the same body of Christ, in order that we be made members of it.”[1] For Calvin, communion with Christ is the foundation, and the motivation, for communion with others. This is one of our greatest motivations for mercy ministry—weekly communion reminds us of how much mercy God has poured out on us in His Son Jesus Christ. How can we hold anything back we see others in pain, in loneliness, in brokenness? Every week we participate in the sacrament of healing and wholeness, which equips us to be agents of the Kingdom in the lives of others.

[1] John Calvin, “Short Treatise on the Holy Supper of our Lord and only Saviour Jesus Christ,” in J.K.S. Reid, ed., Calvin: Theological Treatises (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), 151.

Is “all of life worship”?

Nicholas Wolterstorff, the renowned Reformed philosopher and theologian, has now tackled the subject of liturgy and worship.  In The God We Worship:  An Exploration of Liturgical Philosophy, Wolterstorff carefully analyzes and probes a subject which confuses many people.  Consider the popular and prevalent phrase, “praise and worship.”  Many people (and churches) use this to describe a time of enthusiastic singing, which is followed by a sermon, or a teaching time.  Is listening to the sermon an act of worship?  Is the pastor delivering the sermon engaging in worship?  Wait, haven’t we been told that “all of life is worship”?  Can’t I worship God by washing my car on a Sunday (or any day)?  When we toss the word “worship” around so carelessly, no wonder the world at large (and too reason to singmany self-professed Christians) don’t take “worship” seriously anymore.

For those with the intellectual stamina to carefully follow Wolterstorff’s train of thought, The God We Worship will help to clarify the fuzziness which pervades the contemporary church.  Here’s the end of Ch. 2:9 Continue reading

A Reformed Case for ‘Evangelical Feast Days’

Just in time for Christmas comes an article from Rev. Danny Hyde, pastor of Oceanside URC.  He also serves as an Adjunct Instructor at both Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and Mid-America Reformed Seminary.
Daniel R. Hyde, “Not Holy But Helpful .” Mid-America Journal of Theology 26 (2015): 131–149.
This is used by permission: Web: www.midamerica.edu. E-mail: info@midamerica.edu. Phone:219.864.2400.

Eucharistic Unity & Loving our Neighbors

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Most people associate the name of John Calvin with the doctrines of predestination and harsh examples of religious persecution. However, this caricature fails to capture the complexity of a remarkable man.  Reading through parts of his Genevan Catechism of 1538, Calvin’s practical and pastoral side shine through.  As he summarizes the basic points about the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, Calvin writes:

black-and-white-hands-e1281021939700 (1)“Now this mystery, as it is a proof of God’s very great bounty toward us, ought at the same time to admonish us not to be ungrateful for such lavish kindness, but rather to proclaim it with fitting praises and to celebrate it with thanksgiving.  Then we should embrace one another in that unity with which the members of this same body bound among themselves are connected.  For there could be no sharper goad to arouse mutual love among us than when Christ, giving himself to us, not only invites us by his example to pledge and give ourselves to one another, but as he makes himself common to all, so also makes all one in himself”     (I. John Hesselink, Calvin’s First Catechism:  A Commentary, 35).

Origin of Folding Hands in Prayer

folded handsOne of the fun things about studying worship and liturgy is finding out the origin of things we do, either consciously or unconsciously.  One of my pet peeves is all the well-intentioned Sunday school teachers who exhort their students to “close your eyes and fold your hands” in prayer.  Where does the Bible command this?  Where do we see this bodily position used in Biblical prayer?  We don’t, as far as I know.  Imagine my delight when I came across a passage, from Miri Rubin’s Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture, which explains the origin of this wide-spread custom.  In the late medieval period, it was commonly thought that great blessings and spiritual merit came from seeing, and viewing, the bread of the Eucharist.  The most powerful and effective viewing time was when the priest lifted up (elevated) the Eucharist.  We have records of people running from church to church to see as many elevated Eucharists as they could.  Since this was a holy moment, the people were encouraged to respond appropriately:

medieval eucharist“Proper humility was recommended at this moment, when people were to kneel and gaze at the body and the blood.  This is the attitude most commonly shown in visual representations of the elevation, a group of men and women with clasped hands, and sometimes holding their hands to their mouths in a gesture of awe, kneeling behind the servers and priest.  They are most frequently shown to be clasping their hands in a gesture which becomes increasingly common in thirteenth-century representations, one which we nowadays think of as natural for private prayer” (Corpus Christi, 155-56).

child_prayingI don’t mean to be too hard on the Sunday School teachers, but it is simply interesting how we inherit all sorts of traditions from the past, and are blissfully ignorant of the origins of most things.  This should make us both more humble in our own worship practices, as well as thankful for all the rich history and traditions that have been handed down to us.  Thankfully, God sees the heart, which is really the point of prayer.  May we all have hearts full of child-like faith, no matter how we express that with our bodies!

I blogged about prayer postures some time ago: