Word/Sacrament

The Role of Preaching in Reformed Theology

The Role of Preaching in Reformed Theology

Over at Theologia, one of the best kept secrets in the Reformed world, Duane Garner wrote a piece in 2003 where he elaborated on the place of preaching in the service. It is a well worth read. It will place preaching in its proper place and show its place in the totality of the worship service. Garner writes:

Today, the great majority of Reformed preaching is not too far from the basic Puritan model. The entire Lord’s Day gathering in many Reformed churches is driven by and centered around the sermon, which is ordinarily marked by its academic language, arcane theology and tedious delivery [12]. This present reality is a world away from Calvin’s original intent when he endeavored to place the preaching of the Word back in its proper place in worship.
Calvin wrote, “No assembly of the Church should be held without the word being preached, prayers being offered, the Lord’s supper administered and alms given” [13], indicating that the weekly meeting should be a balanced celebration of Word and Sacrament. Calvin did not intend to obliterate the mass, but simply to rid it of those things which were distractions and not helpful to the ministry of the Word and Sacrament. Throughout his time in Strasbourg and Geneva, he appealed to the patristic pattern of worship and sought to present Communion every single Lord’s day [14]. Such was the importance of proper liturgy to Calvin. He desired to have truly “Word-centered” worship by not simply preaching the Word, but obeying the Word in renewing covenant and eating with the Lord every week.

Read the entire article here.

The Sacraments are for the Hurting

The Sacraments are for the Hurting

The Sacraments are for the hurting. And if you consider how it is structured you understand that a bit better. Why do we eat first and then drink after? Because the world goes from bread to wine; from suffering to glory. The bread is broken for us because Christ suffered for us. His body was broken; and in that brokenness he sympathizes with our weakness. He knows the depths of human sorrow like no other God.

I met someone this week who is dying, but now has to deal with a wife who is also at the point of death. His words to me were: “What kind of man would I be at this stage in my life if I did not trust in God?” “ A miserable man,” I answered. We eat bread because our lives are at times broken apart through pain and suffering. Bread reminds us of that brokenness. It reminds us that Christ was broken that we might be one.

After bread comes the wine; the wine, which throughout the Bible is God’s symbol of joy. Judges says that wine “gladdens the heart of God and man.” Wine reminds us that after suffering comes laughter; after pain comes peace. And so we pass the peace of Christ to one another reminding and re-enforcing the idea that Christ is our peace.

Bread and wine are here given for the people of God: eat and drink for in Christ we are one in suffering and joy.

The Grace of Baptism

The Grace of Baptism

The question of baptism and its recipients is truly a matter of grace and not of works. It was my Calvinism that led me away from credo-baptism. I knew–though it took me a while to act on it–that grace was more than a mere soteriological category. Grace was everything and in every act of God for us. The question of an infant’s ability never crossed my mind as a barrier to accepting covenant baptism. The question of God’s grace was the key that unlocked the baptismal font.

Baptism is a heavenly Pentecost. The Spirit is poured, not we who pour ourselves. Everything is of grace; Gratia sunt omnia. God identifies us as His own from the beginning as He did with creation and then He christens us with His spirit. Baptism is the divine hovering. Baptism is gracious because through it God re-enacts the creation of the world. In baptism we are a new creation. a God has copyrighted the world. He labels, gifts, and graces. Man does not have that capacity; man does not create in and of himself, therefore man cannot change his own identity.  We are imitators, but yet only capable of imitating because God graces us with His artistic gifts.

In the beginning, the world is first identified by the Triune God (Gen. 1) and then it is called to praise that God (Ps. 19). We are first identity-less (dark and void), and then God fills us with His Spirit (light and life). Baptism is all of grace. We were void and empty. God looked at us (Ezk. 16) and washed us and clothed us with fine clothing (Ps. 45).

Infant baptism is of grace because it is the re-enacting of creation. Creation begins in darkness– as in a womb– and is washed. It is like our God to destroy nations with fire and to create new ones with a few drops of water.

  1. Thanks to Jonathan Bonomo for this last comment  (back)
Al Mohler and the Centrality of the Worship

Al Mohler and the Centrality of the Worship

In a recent article, Al Mohler castigates modern worship. He observes that if evangelicals would agree with the idea that worship is central to the Christian life (a big IF), then the next question is, “What is central to Christian worship?” Mohler observes that the worship wars have led to different conclusions. Some elevate music as the center part of worship. Others advocate an evangelistic-shaped service to draw outsiders to the Gospel. More liturgical churches look at the sacraments as central to worship.

Mohler argues rightly that “many evangelical churches seem intensely concerned to replicate studio-quality musical presentations.” He criticizes the enormous amount of time and money involved in presenting a high quality musical experience on Sunday morning. This builds a society where Christians “shop for churches that offer the worship style and experience that fits their expectation.” The consumerist churches create ecclesiastical consumerist parishioners.

I second and third this criticism; always have and always will. However, Mohler misses a significant portion of the conversation on biblical worship. Mohler, attempting to rescue a Reformed view of worship, writes that “the Reformers were convinced that the heart of true biblical worship was the preaching of the word of God.” But is Mohler accurate in his assessment? Wright, who according to many is very un-Reformed, a observed that “Christian worship is a response of the whole human being and the whole human community to God’s grace and love for the world.” It is the whole human being that worship is re-orienting; not just his intellect, but the whole person. Worship then needs to be centered not only on words, but also in the Christian response to the word. God’s words brought the world into existence, but those words created something; that something was not abstract, but tangible and taste-worthy. b.

When Mohler centralizes the Word preached, he misses what came from those words. Indeed he misses the story of God who created and watched us eat from His creation.

Word and Sacrament are central in worship. Indeed the whole worship service is composed of these two aspects. The Word (includes confession and singing) prepares us to consume bread and wine. c The same Luther who spoke highly of the preached Word observed in his small catechism:

Our preaching should… be such that of their own accord and without our command, people will desire the sacrament and, as it were, press us pastors to administer it to them… For Christ did not say, “Omit this” or “despise this,” but “This do, as often as you drink it,” etc.

There was a certain urgency in Luther’s mind about not separating Word and Sacrament. Luther not only argued for weekly communion, but he saw that the Word was incomplete without the sacrament. He argued that when the Word is proclaimed, the Supper must follow. d

According to Mohler, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper each have a place in worship, but the preaching of the Word ought to be supreme. The position of the Reformers was not the one advocated by Mohler. The Reformation–anabaptist excluded–argued that though the Word plays a monumental role in the worship service (Heb. 4:12) it must not be separated from the Sacrament. e The argument the Reformers made, in my estimation, was not for the supremacy of the Word preached, but the inseparability of the Word preached from the Word eaten. What God hath joined together let no man put asunder!

  1. I dispute that statement  (back)
  2. As an advocate of Covenant Renewal Worship, I argue that the entire service is central, though the service can be summarized in Word and Sacrament  (back)
  3. Incidentally, this is one reason for why Word must come before the Sacraments  (back)
  4. Calvin argued that to avoid the Lord’s Supper is a form of devilish theology  (back)
  5. The Supper was, for Calvin, mutual:  Christ “is made completely one with us and we with him.”  (back)
It’s all about table manners!

It’s all about table manners!

What differentiates us from the beasts of the field? I would say one distinguishing feature is table manners. There is a certain etiquette at the table that we as baptized humans are expected to have that animals are not. Even our little ones are expected to develop their table manners. Our little ones move from a high chair to a table chair when they are able to eat without smearing tomato sauce in their hair. Learning table manners is part of learning the language of the body.

This table– though open to all baptized adults and infants– is not a buffet where you can grab and eat whatever you want whenever you want; this table is a civilized table. It is a table with manners. Here we eat and drink with other image-bearers. This means we are patient, gentle, kind, and loving toward our neighbor. The wine that spills from the shaky hands of our little ones is a sign that God is growing our congregation and teaching us table manners. This is our Lord’s table and Jesus loves to see little ones learning to eat and drink. We must be reminded this morning that in so many ways we are like them. Though our outward manners reveal stable hands when we grab our forks, inside we can at times be clumsy; overly confident; self-assured; pursuing selfish ambitions.

If you come to the table too certain of your table manners, then you might be the type of people that Paul constantly criticizes. But if you come to this table too certain of the Christ who died for you, then you come as those found worthy to eat with the Master of the house. And what is the basis of good table manners: Christ. Is Christ gain for you in life or in death, as it was for Paul? If he is, then prepare your lips to taste bread and wine, and prepare to share a meal with fellow brothers and sisters who are learning day by day what good table manners look like.

What Does Baptism Do? A Baptismal Exhortation

What Does Baptism Do? A Baptismal Exhortation

“When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. 10 I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk.

What do we mean by baptism? I can think of no greater description than Yahweh’s in Ezekiel 16. The way God delivered and cared for his people, even amidst sin, is a model for how he deals with us individually from birth. God is a God who richly bestows favor on his people. And these favors begin from the earliest days of life if the biblical narrative is to be taken seriously. So what is God doing to this child at this ceremony we call baptism? We can be certain of at least three promises:

One, we can say that God shows love to this child. According to Ezekiel he is at “the age of love.” At this stage of life the world is a gigantic place filled with gigantic people. For the infant, the world is most like a fairy tale right now. Everything is out of proportion. They are completely dependent. They are ready to be loved. They are ready to trust. The Psalmist puts confidence in his God very early, according to Psalm 22: “Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother‘s breasts.” The infant is prepared to trust, be loved and nourished.  And it is precisely at this stage that God acts on behalf of the child. The text says that Yahweh “spread the wing of his garments over the child and covered his nakedness.” God is acting here with motherly affection. As Ruth was protected by the covering of Boaz, the child is protected by the covering of Yahweh.

Second, in baptism we can say that God makes a vow toward his own, and enters into a covenant with his own. He declares, “You are mine.” Baptism is the marking of the child with the name of God. Baptism is the fulfillment of the third commandment. Wherever Rhett Hoffman goes, there he carries the Name of His God. And because God is his God, he should not take his name in vain. It was not Rhett who moved towards God, it was God who moved towards Rhett, because baptism is all by grace and grace alone.

Finally, God says, “Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil.” The language here could be developed in a thousand sermons, but simply put, “baptism is the clothing of God put on the child.” The nakedness of Adam cannot be exposed. The Covenant covers. And with what does God cover his own? He covers them with embroidered cloth and fine linen. Is there a more glorious picture of baptism? The God of heaven and earth interferes into time and space to clothe this child this morning in holy baptism.

In baptism, new life is given; a new community is inherited; a new name is bestowed. Though the nations are thrown down, God is planting a new one this morning with a few drops of water.

Mike and Ashley, happy is the family whose trust is in God. You have trusted and continue to trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This morning I urge you to remind little Rhett daily of the God who claimed him as his own; when he sins remind him; the God who clothed him with royal clothing; when he sins remind him; the God who entered into covenant with him; when he sins remind me that he may walk in the ways of God, his father, Jesus his Savior, and the Spirit his comforter all his days. Amen.

Every Real Things is a Joy

Every Real Things is a Joy

There is a wonderful line in Robert Capon’s The Marriage Supper of the Lamb where he writes that “Every real thing is a joy, if only you have eyes and ears to relish it, a nose and tongue to taste it.” One of the themes that emerges in Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes is that joy is the distinguishing feature of the Christian. Only the Christian argues Solomon, is able to take God’s gifts and use them with joy. Joy is the fruit of the Spirit; a gift of grace; a tasty sample of glory; a meal for the weak; an appetizer of kings. Joy is the outworking of a faith well-lived.

Joy is not laughing away problems; joy is looking at problems straight in the eyes and saying “My God has an answer!” Joy is our response to nihilism; our response to pietism; our response to bad food; our response to misery; joy at the end of the tether is a renewed trust in Jesus who makes us eat bread and wine and not spit it out, but to enjoy each sip and each bite as a gift from God, and his gifts are not to be despised.

Paedocommunion

Paedocommunion

Over at Kuyperian Commentary, Luke Welch has started a good conversation on paedocommunion. Here is his first post and his latest. a

  1. You can also visit this site for additional resources  (back)
The Eucharist

The Eucharist

I have been reading through Alexander Schmemann’s The EucharistThe book is just a delightful read through the lens of Schmemann’s “unorthodox” view of Eastern Orthodoxy. At one time he takes to task the Orthodox Church for having separated the priest from the people. He argues that certain priests have become like soldiers keeping the people from participating in the assembly. At another time he argues that the Church serves to unite the people of God, not divide; a concern Schmemann has with the prevailing “clericalism.”

Schmemann writes with a somewhat evangelical zeal against his own, which is reason for the intense distaste “pure” orthodox converts have for him. But the most delightful part is when he delves into the nature of the Church. He observes that we come to worship not for individual prayer, but to “assemble together as the Church.” The assembly itself is a holy constitution, and in that the first liturgical act.

In his chapter on The Sacrament of the Assembly, Schmemann deals with the holy office of the minister (priest). He observes that the minister wears white because it is the garment of the baptized. By wearing white he is representing all the baptized in the community. When we enter into the house of God we are entering “clothed in the garments of new creation.”

John Knox on Baptism

John Knox on Baptism

The Reformed world spins in all sorts of un-sacramental circles. In a recent post dealing with the Federal Vision, one writer observed that baptism does nothing to the recipient, but to point him to something greater. A well-known Reformed thinker has begun to use the phrase “baptism brings an individual into the shadow of the covenant.” All of this language serves to stay away from what many in the Reformed tradition, even the majority of reformational confessions have stated all along, namely that baptism accomplishes something. It is effectual. Baptism effectually brings an individual into a corporate reality. That reality brings then various benefits and blessings to the recipient. a

There are particular branches within the Reformed world that de-stresses the effectual nature of baptism. But one must also affirm without a shadow of a doubt that the Reformational expression has by and large emphasized the profound union that exists between baptism and covenant blessings. Baptism is not simply the exposure to blessings, but the experience of blessings.

John Knox, considered one of the fathers of Presbyterianism expresses this most powerfully in the Scots Confession of 1560:

We utterly condemn the vanity of those who affirm the sacraments to be nothing else than naked and bare signs. No, we assuredly believe that by Baptism we are engrafted into Christ Jesus, to be made partakers of his righteousness, by which our sins are covered and remitted, and also that in the Supper rightly used, Christ Jesus is so joined with us that he becomes the very nourishment and food for our souls.

If Knox is to be used as a paragon of Presbyterian orthodoxy, then this statement will certainly appear frightening to those who have become accustomed to de-emphasizing the efficacy of the sacraments. ((Steve Wilkins offers some of these quotes here)) But yet these quotes can be multiplied.

If we are Reformed, then we need to come to terms with the high view of the sacraments that are prevalent in the historical Reformed faith. To act as if the early reformers imbibed some form of middle-of-the-road covenantalism is dishonest to history, and particularly to our Reformed forefathers.

  1. We could discuss paedocommunion here, but my point is a more general one  (back)