Monday, June 13, 2011

Communion of the Saints and Invisibility

In recent weeks the reality of social invisibility has resonated in my mind as I commune with saints of European descent. Yesterday I had the pleasure of participating in a worship service at an African American Baptist church focusing on manhood. I spoke for 23 minutes on "The Purpose of a Christian Man." That's not the point here. My point is that when I told people what church I go to, no one knew about it. The large Orthodox Presbyterian church I have made my home is invisible to African Americans who are Baptists and non-denominational Evangelicals.

This hurts my heart especially as the line in the Apostles' Creed echoes in my head: "I believe in the holy catholic church; the communion of the saints." Also there's an entire chapter in the Westminster Confession of Faith devoted to the communion of the saints. Here's a brief snipet that's operative to this issue: "Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification." When it comes to the practice of this truth as it pertains to communion outside of ethnic enclaves we fall way short. It seems as though we are comfortable with our distance. We can nod to the belief in the communion of the saints, but we just lack the gumption to put it into practice. It seems as though our sociology takes precedent over our theology.

Our lack of true community as Christians is sin. Our indifference is sin. Our mutual arrogance and aloofness is sin. Let's pray for holy boldness like Paul who confronted Peter's sin of racism recorded in Galatians 2. I have news for everyone: heaven is integrated! Lord God, let thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Reformed Worship is Biblical Worship

We have another Winter Storm rolling through W. Michigan today and now into the evening. No PM service at church. Besides sleeping for over 3 hours I've listened to a sermon, and watch Tenth Pres's live stream. I just finished reading a chapter in D. G. Hart's Recovering Mother Kirk. For anyone serious about worshiping God in spirit and truth this book is a must read. This my second time reading the book, and Chapter 4, "Reverence and Reformed Worship" has struck me once again. Hart laments the fact that then (early-mid 1990s) there were Evangelicals leaving their Evangelical churches to join Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches because of their dissatisfaction of the onslaught of contemporary worship practices and styles in their churches. They prefered the majesty and dignity of Roman Catholic and Orthodox liturgies. Hart's argument is that Reformed worship offers the same in its historical liturgy. He wonders why these folk bypassed Geneva on their way to Rome, or Athens.

Since I've been Reformed my whole theology of worship has changed. I was locked in the cultural captivity of my Missionary Baptist upbringing and failed to appreciate historic worship let alone liturgical worship. I mocked liturgical worship as being dead to the Spirit, and being "European." As a Reformed Christian, I realize that God has provided liturgy for his people. Liturgy is a gift to the Church so that we can worship as he proscribes. What we have in Reformed worship is the dialogical cadence and rhythm: God speaks, we listen, we respond. All must be tempered in godly fear.

Some may criticize this as worship that is dull and staid. If someone responds such as this, he/she fails to recognize that even regenerate people cannot approach God on our own and with our own program. The starting point of Reformed theology is God's holiness and our unqualified (on our own) position to even offer him one iota of praise from our own. This is why our worship is mediated by Christ and the Spirit. This implies that we must worship God on his terms. He has dictated that we sanctify him in our worship. Our posture must be that of humility, but also joy in the fact that God has drawn near to us by Christ and the Spirit.

As one who believes that God has commanded us to sing psalms exclusively in the praise, psalm-singing offers us a variety of ways to offer the sacrifice of praise to God. Many psalms are sung prayers, others are majestic hymns, and some are laments and confession of sin. All of these elements of praise must be part of the entire corpus of liturgy. To neglect these elements time and time again means that our praise will be limp and will fail us.

The Heavenly Father invites us to worship him, but we must do so "acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Heb 12:28).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Luke's Birth Narrative and Christmas

Christmas has passed. It is the middle of February and no one has his/her mind on Christmas. This is a perfect time to remind people that there is no biblical warrant to observe Christmas as a holy day. It is a secular holiday cloaked in Christian garb. That aside I am reading the birth narrative in Luke's gospel and savouring it. I'm reading it slowly, and focusing upon key things such the angel's announcement to the shepherds. The poetry of Luke's narrative as it is translated in the KJV. I love Luke's birth narrative.

We historic Reformed folk who know that Calvin and the Puritans could care less for Christmas may project to the rest of the Christian world that we disdain reading the birth narratives and speaking with joy about the birth of Christ. Nothing could be further from the truth. How could a Christian read this text and feel no joy welling up in his/her heart?

Well, let me get back at Luke 2 and read with joy, passion, and eagerness. Sola Scriptura!

Friday, February 11, 2011

How Reformed Theology has Made Me More Catholic

To all of my followers, let me apologize for the long period between posts. This will be quick since I'm sitting in my office on a frigid Friday morning with a few flurries penetrating the sky with plenty of other things to occupy my time.

In a previous post, I revealed that I received Christian baptism as an infant in the Roman Catholic Church. I received "believer's baptism" only 6 1/2 years later in a Baptist church! I have a Roman Catholic context to fall back on in addition to receiving my elementary and high school education from Catholic schools.

Since I've been a Reformed Christian, I'm becoming more Catholic (not Roman). Since I'm a teaching historian, I've realized through studying the Reformation was that was the point of Luther, Calvin, and others. They were interested in bringing the Church back to its biblical, apostolic, and ancient history. When Calvin writes of the Church in his Institutes, does he use the term Reformed, or Presbyterian? No. He calls the Church the Holy Catholic Church.

As a Reformed Christian, I fully embrace my Catholicity as defined by my Reformed forebears. I lustily recite the Apostles Creed in church, and I've begun to pray through the Belgic Confession of Faith. I'm claiming the words Paul wrote first to the Church at Corinth, "all are yours." The apostles are mine, Alexander of Alexandria is mine, Ambrose is mine, Augustine is mine, Luther is mine, and Calvin is mine. For African American Christians, especially Protestants, this is a crucial point. Owing to our unique historical context, we tend to be parochial in our thinking and our approach to church matters. Almost by nature we attend African American churches. I understand the history, but are we being truly Catholic in spirit? Have we given up the fight on this front? We complain about racism in the church universal, but we stand aloof from fighting for inclusion and integration in the most important institution in the world.

I think the Spirit is grieved how we place culture above biblical Catholicity. Let's not wait on large numbers of white brethren to initiate discussions, or to invite persons of color to their churches. Where we see the marks of a true church, let's join no matter what. Why? Because it glorifies our Christ who died for Jews and Gentiles alike. His death tore down that middle wall of partition that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 2:14. In fact, the Apostle states(2:15)that the Church consisting of all nations is "one new man!"

Ecclesia Semper Reformanda means in part that we pray and work for local churches to reflect Paul's words.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What the Reformed Can Learn From Black Preaching

Every Lord's Day evening I take time to reacquaint myself with my heritage of hearing and appreciating traditional Black preaching. The late Dr. Olin Moyd wrote a book that called Black preaching the Sacred Art, and traditional Black Preaching has been just that--a sacred art. Black preachers have been able to hold worshippers on edge with their sense of capturing the drama of Holy Writ. Their preaching has been full of power, passion, and pathos that causes one to tremble. It is a visceral experience to hear good Black preaching, and by good I mean preaching that is faithful to the Scriptures and to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I believe African American preaching has something good to offer traditional Reformed preaching. There is no doubt that Reformed pastors can preach, but much of the preaching lacks pathos that is able to resonate with worshippers. As I alluded to in the above paragraph, Black preaching is dramatic. It builds, and with it the worshippers rise with the preacher. He leads them through the text--pushing them and prodding them to understand it and connect to it. The "amen's" from the congregation feed into the sense of drama before there is the climax with exultation. This exultation in classical black preaching is rooted in the fact the Jesus has died, has been buried, but now lives! Black preaching at its best is centered on the cross of Jesus Christ--his sacrifrice on behalf of his people.

In Reformed circles, we need to hear preaching with passion. It would be fine for Presbyterians to get loud sometimes in proclaiming the work of Christ; it would just dandy if a Christian Reformed pastor asks "can I get a witness?" when making a wonderful point about our justification through faith in Christ alone. Let's not use culture as an excuse. The biblical record is clear that the church is to respond to prayers with "amen." If the truth is proclaimed, let the church say, "amen."

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Lessons from Eternity

After reading Revelation 4, the thought came into my mind regarding the mode of praise rendered by the 24 elders who sit around the throne of God. Do they dance? Do they play pretty tunes on instruments? Do they mime? Do they run and "shout?" In reading the text with answering the questions posed, the answer is clearly no. Is this pattern for our worship now when we gather in the name of the Lord on the Lord's Day? I say, yes.

The mode of praise here in this chapter is spiritual words, perfect words. Are spiritual and perfect words available to us? Why, yes. We find them in the Word of God in the Book of Psalms. The Book of Psalms contains the spiritual songs referred to by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3.

Judging from Revelation 4, our praise must be and can only be spiritual words rendered unto the Lord God. What do we see in churches, especially African American churches? We see dancing? We see whirling about? We see "mimestry?" We hear all sorts of dead instruments? We do hear singing, but are the words spiritual? I'm not referring to do the words reflect spiritual realities, but are the words themselves from the Spirit of God? Some may claim to have a special gift by which the written inspired songs, but such claims are erroneous.

In African American churches, reformation and revival is needed in the mode of praise rendered to our thrice holy God. May God be pleased to grant his Spirit to these churches to follow the commandments pertaining to praise.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Mount Calvary Primitive Baptist Association October 2009

Here is an example of singing in an African American (Primitive) Baptist Church without the aid of musical instruments. I am in no wise endorsing the song itself, but the a cappella style.