Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I am undone!

I have begun two books today that are so completely appropriate to my current thinking and so profoundly inspiring to me that I simply have nothing left to contribute in this setting with regard to liturgy or Christian time. It isn't that I am not still thinking through the subject...far from it. Nor is it unimportant for me to digest these things by writing about them in a non-threatening environment. But for the time being, I am so humbled that it would be best for me to point you to these resources for your own consideration. Once I have finished them I will once again address the subjects here on the blog.

The first of these is Calendar: Christ's Time for the Church by Laurence Hull Stookey. This was recommended to me long ago by Tim Ralston (a prof in the pastoral ministry department at DTS) and I am only just now attacking it in earnest. What a refreshing attempt to explain to a recovering fundy like myself the intersection of past and future in the present through the intersection of faith (in the form of confessional doctrine) and practice (in the form of the liturgical observance of Christian time). Wow! Anyone seeking to better understand the underlying principles of liturgical time should begin here. Simply breathtaking.

The second is a bit more provincial, but no less inspiring. Recovering Mother Kirk: The Case for Liturgy in the Reformed Tradition by D. G. Hart is an appeal to the Reformed faithful to recognize and return to a high view of the church. Hart's model for worship is Calvin's Geneva liturgy, rooting his argument in a solidly and historically reformed source. His opening argument for the centrality of ecclesiology as the unifying principle not only among Reformed and Presbyterians, but potentially among a wider audience, has really struck a chord with me. If you are Presbyterian and tempted to run to the Anglican, Roman Catholic, or even Orthodox tradition in order to find someone that has a high view of the church, make sure you stop off at this work by Hart before making the journey. If you have already made the trek, purely for liturgical reasons, I encourage you to consider the potential of the reformed faith to meet your liturgical needs. I sincerely hope that the reformed church will soon recognize its neglect of ecclesiology and the role of corporate worship in the life of the church and return to its roots.

As I said above, I will return to posting thoughts on this once I have finished these two works. Stay tuned!



M. Jay Bennett said...

I like that chart. DTS did teach you something, huh?

M. Jay Bennett said...

"His opening argument for the centrality of ecclesiology as the unifying principle not only among Reformed and Presbyterians, but potentially among a wider audience, has really struck a chord with me."

I am becoming more sympathetic to having a prescribed liturgy as a unifying principle among Christians.

However, I don't know if I would agree that ecclesiology has not always been a central part and unifying principle of Reformed churches. Regardless of liturgy Reformed churches have understood the church as having three marks: (1) Pure Gospel preaching, (2) Rightly observing the sacraments, (3) exercising church discipline. So, in working toward each of these ideals the Reformed church implicitly understands ecclesiology to be a unifying principle.

I suppose with regard to liturgy, the question is: what are the unifying principles, the fundamentals, that lie behind the liturgy itself. The Genevan liturgy included a central place for the Supper and gospel preaching (again in connection with the marks).

But I think ultimately the gospel is the unifying principle for Reformed churches. It is fundamental to all three marks.

Matt Bradley said...


I think we are talking about two different things. I don't think Hart is arguing that ecclesiology hasn't been central in the manner in which you point out above. However, if the form of our worship expresses our theological foundations (as lex orandi, lex credendi argues), then what does it mean that within the PCA (for starters) and even more so in the wider Presbyterian community, our worship is not only so scattered (in terms of form), but is in many ways patently unreformed?

Argued another way, corporate worship should be not only an adequate expression of our doctrine (I think there is a connection here between worshiping in truth, and allowing our worship to reflect our deeply held theological convictions), but it should be the closest thing to perfection that we achieve on this side of glory. By this, I mean that if we are all gathered together to express our doctrine (the center of which is the gospel), and we are doing this in spirit and truth (orthodoxy, -praxy, and -pathos), then all other aspects of the faith should flow out of this. What I am saying here makes more sense on the context of Hart's comments. He is arguing for proper worship as the unifying principle in the context of a reality in which culture has become the unifying principle for some, doctrine (in a bald sense) the unifying principle for others, and still others unified by the emotional aspects. If all of these were unified in a proper view of worship, then they would be free to explore these other areas in a proper balance, but they would still be unified with one another in worship.

Let me summarize this way: If we are one people, worshiping one God, in one Spirit and one truth, then is it proper that we are communicating disunity through our worship? I think Hart is suggesting that each of these other, traditional, unifying issues (culture, doctrine, and emotion) have developed to a point that they exclude one another in the eyes of those who espouse them. This is supported by the fact that those in each group worship separately and differently from one another. If they would unify on the issue of worship, then each of them could work out their pet issues in unity.


M. Jay Bennett said...

Great point Matt! I need more time to process and finish Hart's book.