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.

Christ Church Family Conference (2016)

Excited to announce that Pastor Jeff Meyers will be speaking at this year’s Christ Church Family Conference (Feb. 20-22) this year in Cary, NC!  He serves as the pastor of Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) and is the author of The Lord’s Service, and Ecclesiastes Through New Eyes:  A Table in the Mist.  Join us!

Worship as the “Pulsating of a Common Life”

Ralph Martin writes:  “The worship of the church means the pulsating of a ‘common life’ (koinonia) that flows through the body of Christ and in which the individuals participate through their baptism by one Spirit into one body (see 1 Cor. 12:13).  To conceptualize the church at worship as made up of isolated units, however personal, each worshiping in a self-contained compartment, however closely associated, is really to mistake what the New Testament means by the church.  As E. Schweizer well illustrates, the ideal set forth in the pages of the apostolic church is that of fellowship-in-worship.  He deals critically with the latter-day notion of the Christian community as split between one speaker and a silent body of listeners; and equally his study rebukes the excessive individualism of what passes for worship in many modern churches.  Recovery of the wholeness of the church’s life as ‘life together’ in Christ, in Bonhoeffer’s phrase, would go a long way to set our worship as a corporate exercise on a stable basis, and deliver modern congregations from ‘ministerial monopoly’ with one person conducting a virtuoso performance on the one side, and overemphasis on the narrowly individualistic–such as a disfigured Corinthian assembly where koinonia had tragically broken down–on the other” (The Worship of God:  Some Theological, Pastoral, and Practical Reflections,12-13).

In the coming weeks, and months, I’ll be writing more about this topic, because it really goes to the heart of a shift I’ve experienced in my life and my theology.  I’ll be posting more about the intersections of liturgy and practical ministry.  God has given me many opportunities to get into the nitty-gritty, painful, work of walking alongside people in really messed-up situations.  In a sense, I’ve been forced out of my “ivory-tower” of academic scholarship.  In another sense, I’ve been encouraged that I’m in good company with many other faithful scholars who have gone before me.  So, no new revelations will be forth-coming, but I will be sharing some of the wisdom that I’ve found, wisdom that’s been neglected.

More Relevant “Worship” or More Relevant Mission?

Here’s a great piece by Jonathan, at Ponder Anew.  Jonathan exposes some assumptions and problems with “contemporary worship,” but I especially love his conclusion.  The way to grow churches is not through flashy concert-performances, but by living out missional lives in our communities.  The whole article is worth reading, but here’s Jonathan’s conclusion:

“So what happens, then, if we don’t craft our worship services to attract unbelievers?

We’ll have to get serious again about Sunday. All of us. And then as the clock strikes noon, we’ll have to go.

Go out and feed the hungry.

Go out and clothe the naked.

Go out and associate with people who don’t look like us, don’t think like us, don’t act like us, don’t vote like us, and don’t usually like us.

Go out and fight for justice.

Go out and end oppression.

Go out and proclaim anew the old, old story.

Go out and reach out to those who are running from God and God’s church.

Go out and stop deflecting tough questions with our usual, tired cliches.

And do all of this in the name of the one who sent us.

And then open the doors wide again on Sunday morning.”

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.

 

Is There Balm for Evangilead?

In his article, “The Emerging Divide in Evangelical Theology,” published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 56/2 (2013), 355-77, Gerald McDermott surveys theological and cultural developments in the Evangelical world.  The article is helpful and illuminating throughout, but his three suggestions at the end of the article are directly related to the vision of the Reformed Liturgical Institute.  These suggestions are given in the hopes of healing the growing divisions in the Evangelical world.

His first suggestion is, “evangelicals would have to look more seriously at their own tradition [and he then holds up Jonathan Edwards as an example of how to be faithful to both Scripture and tradition]” (376).

Secondly, “evangelical theology would need to renounce the triumphalism that has heretofore treated church history as little more than darkness before the Reformation or 18th-century awakenings.  It would need to submit to a vision of the whole that can be found only by living in the whole (theological) tradition” (376).

“Third, evangelical theologians need to beware of the peculiarly academic sort of ambition that seeks acceptance and recognition by our liberal colleagues” (376).

His concluding observations are right on target:  “I will go so far to say that if evangelical theology does not adopt these suggestions, it will not survive.  But it will strengthen itself and preserve itself against internal dissolution if it sees itself as a reform movement in the church catholic.  The monastic movements, the Christian reform movement, the Dominican preaching revival, the Franciscans, and the Reformation itself thrived and influenced the broader church by relating to and learning from the broader church.  Only if evangelical theology sees itself as a renewal and reform movement raised up by the Spirit from amidst and for the purpose of the wider church catholic, and therefore learns from that universal church, will it save itself from disintegrating into even more subjectivist and individualistic sects, many of them neither evangelical nor orthodox.

“Evangelicals have always put a premium on the local church.  If they have talked about the universal church, typically they have thought only in terms of the universal church of fellow evangelicals.  It is time for evangelicals to look more broadly, at the universal church beyond evangelical boundaries, not only around the world today, but especially to the last two thousand years of rich theological reflection” (376-77).