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: E-mail: 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!

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.


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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More on Liturgical Didacticism

The Reformers were reacting to the scandalous ignorance of the average Christian.  For various reasons, the Roman Catholic clergy had failed in their responsibility to teach and instruct the Church.  This is why people flocked to Protestant churches to hear a deluge of high-powered sermons, rich in humanistic scholarship and pastoral insight.  However, the pendulum always swings too far the other way.  In their eagerness to teach these starving sheep, the Reformers tended to turn liturgy into yet another didactic device, rather than a doxological path for worship.  Gordon S. Wakefield comments on Martin Bucer’s liturgy:

“As one might expect, Strasbourg liturgy is verbose in the extreme.  This was a danger of many Reformed rites, which is why Cranmer’s virtues shine so bright in contrast.  It is due to the desire to make worship intelligible, to exlain everything so that it may be understood.  This is a worthy motive, but it may be an affliction, evident today among those who cannot leave explanation to rubrics, or in some instances sermons, and who fail to realize that worship is not simply a mental activity and that liturgy has a symphonic, or poetic quality.  It should itself carry the worshippers along into the heavenly places.  The reaction against the mystery and secret of the Mass has gone too far.” (An Outline of Christian Worship, 75).

Today, I think the biggest area of temptation for churches is in the “pastoral prayer,” or in any other prayer.  Sometimes we can tend to preach in our prayers.  We forget who we’re talking to.  This is why I find it helpful to pray the Psalms, read Puritan prayers, or Anglican, and even some Orthodox prayers.  Prayer isn’t easy for me.  I need help, so I’m not ashamed to learn from saints who have gone before me, and who excelled in prayer.