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

Charles Baird’s “A Chapter on Liturgies”–Free!

I recently discovered that one of the classic texts on Presbyterian & Reformed liturgies is now available for free on Google Books!  Charles Baird’s A Chapter on Liturgies:  Historical Sketches was a ground-breaking work published in the late 1800s, when many people were ignorant of the rich liturgical history of the Reformed churches.  Baird’s project was so novel (given the anti-liturgical prejudices in the Reformed world at the time) that he published the first edition of the work anonymously.  It bore the unwieldy title of Eutaxia; Or the Presbyterian Liturgies: Historical Sketches, by A Minister of the Presbyterian Church (now republished by Forgotten Books in a facsimile format). Although the research is dated and must be compared with more recent scholarship, it is well worth perusing.  Unfortunately, much ignorance and prejudice about liturgy still prevails in Reformed churches.  Baird’s even-handed and honest history will help many churches grow and appreciate the liturgical resources in their own traditions.

 

Mark Buchanan on Liturgy

In his wonderful book, The Rest of God:  Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath, Mark Buchanan muses on the meaning of “liturgy”:

“I was converted within a Low Church tradition … Yet over time I began to realize that the Low Church is just as bound by liturgy as any church, and maybe more so because we think we’re not.  The Low Church enshrines–makes a liturgy of–austerity, spontaneity, informality.  And we have our unwritten but nonetheless rigorously observed codes and protocols.  We love our traditions, even our rigmarole, every bit as much as the next guy, only ours is earthy, rustic, folksy.

“So I changed my mind about liturgy.  It certainly can become dull and rote, but so can anything … At its best, liturgy comprises the gestures by which we honor transcendent reality.  It helps us give concrete expression to deepest convictions.  It gives us choreography for things unseen and allows us to brush heaven among the shades of earth.

“Our most significant relationships and events have a liturgical shape to them.  They have rites of passage.  Birthdays and homecomings, graduations and good-byes.  Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter, birth and death and marriage:  all are marked by words and actions, songs and symbols, customs and traditions that enact them and complete them.  And all these things also provide us with a means of entering them.  What is a birthday without a cake, at least one candle burning on it, and a huddle of well-wishers, wearing clownish hats, singing in their ragged, hoary voices?  What is a birthday without a liturgy?

“What liturgy accomplishes is nothing short of astonishing:  It breaks open the transcendent within the ordinary and the everyday.  It lets us glimpse the deeper reality–the timeless things, the universal ones, the things above–within this particular instance of it” (The Rest of God, 8-9).

Buchanan goes on to explain meaning of the Greek word for “liturgy” in its ancient context, and why it was “odd” for the early church to use it to describe its public worship. But, you’ll just have to get the book and read it for yourself.  It’s well worth it!

Sexist Scottish Stools

We’ve all heard the romanticized story of how Jenny Geddes, the rustic Scotswoman, was so disturbed by the King of England’s imposition of English Anglican prayers on the Scots Presbyterians, that she threw her stool at the minister in St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh, in 1637.

Sorting legend from historical fact here is tricky, but I’ve always wondered why she had a stool in the first place.  Seating in churches was a relatively late development–churches throughout the early church and medieval times would have been bare of seating, for the most part.  Pews are a modern development.  So, if you wanted to bring seating, you had to bring your own.  But, there’s a more depressing side to Jenny Geddes and her stool.  According to William D. Maxwell, the noted liturgical historian of the early 20th century, women were sometimes not allowed to sit with the men in Scottish Reformed churches.  I will quote him at length, because he really messes with a few of our mental pictures for Scots Reformed worship:

“The attitude at prayer everywhere was kneeling, on both knees or on one knee; hats were removed for prayers, psalms, and reading, but were usually though not always worn during sermon by the preacher and the men, and the women wore plaids or shawls on their heads, and in many places sat separate from the men.”

He continues in a footnote, quoting the decision of board of elders in Glasgow, in 1589:  “‘The session ordains that no woman sit upon or occupy the forms the men should sit on, but either sit [i.e. on the floor] or els bring stools wi’ them’.  Forty-eight years later [Maxwell comments] Jenny Geddes (?) obediently brought her stool with her, but allowed it to be put to more aggressive use, and this method was not the last time stools were used as weapons in church, as records of this and the succeeding century show” (William D. Maxwell, A History of Worship in the Church of Scotland, 97).

So, not only did we have Scots Presbyterians kneeling to pray (I thought that was a Roman Catholic thing!) and wearing hats in church, but we had women often segregated from the men, forced to sit on the floor or on stools they brought to church with them.  Well, hopefully their husbands carried their stools to church for them.  Humorous at the least, but also revealing how much of our worship is dictated by our historical context and culture.

Calvin’s Ladder

 

Calvin's Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and AscensionCalvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension by Julie Canlis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Calvin’s Ladder:  A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension, by Julie Canlis, is one of the best theological books I’ve read, and exemplifies what we’re striving to do at the Reformed Liturgical Institute. Canlis reveals a rich legacy of theological insights in Calvin’s thought, weaving together the themes of participation, ascension, adoption and eucharist. Canlis interacts with a wide variety of commentators on Calvin, and doesn’t hesitate to gently correct and question some of the respected figures in Calvin scholarship. Further, she shows how recovering Calvin’s theology of “participation” helps balance certain readings of Calvin and certain strains of the Calvinist tradition. As an example of “reformed catholicity,” her treatment of Irenaeus’s theology of participation is especially insightful, even when she uses Irenaeus to modify Calvin’s own theology of participation. As a student of the church fathers, surely this is something Calvin would appreciate. Overall, a theological feast well worth savoring!

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The Blessed Unity of Our Singing

In A New Song for an Old World:  Musical Thought in the Early Church, Calvin Stapert shows how important congregational singing was to the early church as a visible and audible expression of Christian unity:

Building on Paul’s exhortation in Romans 15:5-6, Stapert asks:  “Does ‘with one voice’ refer directly to singing?  Probably not–at least not exclusively.  But no one can doubt that it articulates a principle that the church took very seriously for her singing.  The importance of singing ‘with one voice’ was a constant refrain among the early Christian writers.  Listen to some of its recurrences during the first few centuries of the Christian era.  Clement of Rome (ca. 96):

In the same way [as the angels] ought we ourselves, gathered together in a conscious unity, to cry to Him as it were with a single voice …

Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-ca. 215):

The union of many in one, issuing in the production of divine harmony out of a medley of sounds and division, becomes one symphony following one choir-leader and teacher, the Word, reaching and resting in the same truth, and crying Abba, Father.

Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 260-ca. 340):

And so more sweetly pleasing to God than any musical instrument would be the symphony of the people of God, by which, in every church of God, with kindred spirit and single disposition, with one mind and unanimity of faith and piety, we raise melody in unison in our psalmody.

Ambrose (ca. 339-397):

[A Psalm is] a pledge of peace and harmony, which produces one song from various and sundry voices in the manner of a cithara …  A psalm joins those with differences, unites those at odds and reconciles those who have been offended, for who will not concede to him with whom one sings to God in one voice?  It is after all a great bond of unity for the full number of people to join in one chorus.  The strings of the cithara differ, but create one harmony (symphonia).”

Stapert comments:  “Unity was an important matter to the early Christians, and, as these quotations show, almost from the beginning music was an expression of, a metaphor for, and a means toward unity” (25-26).

People and Place – Good Quotes

I’m simply loving every page of Michael Horton’s People and Place:  A Covenant Ecclesiology!  Horton weaves Biblical theology, the Reformed tradition, patristic insights, and critical engagement with modern theologians into a dramatically compelling narrative.  I’ll probably be posting my favorite quotes for a while …

“But because of Pentecost, even we who were previously aimless characters in the dead-end and insignificant plots of this passing age become part of the growing cast in the supporting role of witnesses to the God of promise.  Because of the Spirit, the church’s performance here and now is not ‘based on a true story,’ but is part of it:  a living liturgy of covenantal action and response.  It originates in the heart of the Father, unfolds in the life of the Son, and is brought to fruition by the graciously disruptive power of the Spirit” (pg. 30).

A lot of what Horton says about the Holy Spirit and Christ’s Ascension is complemented by Julie Canlis in her profound study, Calvin’s Ladder:  A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension.  This is also a rich theological feast, and a balanced treatment of several key themes in Calvin’s theology.

The King Jesus Gospel – Review

The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News RevisitedThe King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scot McKnight

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Scot McKnight’s new book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, is a keeper. In fact, I would say it’s one of the best theological books I’ve ever read. Part of what makes it exciting is that McKnight is excited himself! You can sense his energy and his joy in his subject, as he leads us step-by-step through his own theological development. It takes some work to read Jesus in his own context, and McKnight is patient with us.

I used this book in my classes at a Christian school, to help bolster my case that Christians should read the Old Testament more. My students were honest in their admission that they don’t read the Old Testament much, and don’t see the point. McKnight argues that, unless we understand the story of Israel, we cannot really understand Jesus.

I appreciated his critique of the Reformation, his insistence that we learn about the early church, and his endorsement of prayer-books and creeds. If you don’t see how those are connected with Jesus in first-century context, you’ll just have to buy the book and find out for yourself!

My only real question concerns the “contextualization” question. McKnight presents a solid case that Apostolic preaching looked like thus-and-such. Basically, the preaching of Peter and Paul was dramatically different than our “four spiritual laws” presentations and arm-twisting methods of “gospel” persuasion. Granted. But, Peter and Paul were preaching to a largely Jewish culture. Even when Paul is writing to sort out problems between Jews and Gentiles, he’s still working within Jewish categories. When we take the Gospel to Africa, do we still stress every aspect of Old Testament history as much as the Apostles did? Stephen’s speech in Acts wouldn’t seem to work so well in remote jungles. I hope McKnight will take this up in another book.

Overall, this is a splendid book, and I hope it will help to shake up the anemic and shallow American church!

(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Zondervan book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

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Name-Calling Irony

As I reviewed Lee Palmer Wandel’s The Eucharist in the Reformation, something jumped out at me–the Calvinistic evangelicals of the sixteenth century were called “Sacramentarians” by their Roman Catholic and Lutheran opponents (Wandel, pg. 177).  Now, just type in “sacramentarian” + “federal vision” on Google, and see how the label has switched.  Funny how labels morph over time …