Cool Party Trick: The Radical Intolerance and Tolerance of Presbyterian Particularism

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This decision appeared to be another instance of the prideful quest for purity that so often characterized fundamentalism. Orthodox Presbyterian narrowness, however, looked back to Old School Presbyterian practice rather than fundamentalist belligerence. A self-conscious Calvinism no doubt was one barrier between orthodox Presbyterians and most other evangelicals and fundamentalists…Thus, just as the Old School Presbyterian Church had refused to support the interdenominational voluntary organizations founded by revivalists during the Second Great Awakening, so too the Orthodox Presbyterian Church remained separate from the cooperative endeavors of 1940s whether evangelical or fundamentalist.

Nevertheless, as Machen had demonstrated, Presbyterian particularism, while narrow in religious affairs, could be tolerant in cultural and social matters. By tightly prescribing the nature and function of the institutional church, Old School Presbyterianism leaned toward a strict separation of church and state and, as a result, was more tolerant of religious and cultural diversity than the revivalist tradition…A large theme in the post-World War II resurgence of evangelicalism as well as the revivalist crusades of the antebellum era was the belief that evangelism would correct social ills and reconstruct Christian civilization in America…Thus, while evangelical leaders set their sights on winning the nation’s soul, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church established links with other ethnic confessional communions in America, most notably the Dutch Calvinists in the Christian Reformed Church, and with Reformed churches in other countries.

D.G. Hart, Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America

Mention to the distant cousin at the family reunion one’s Reformed affiliation and one might get a knit brow. “You don’t seem like the type who was ever in need of reforming.” It may be quickly cleared up by delineating that by Reformed one may also mean Presbyterian.

But if one has a penchant for further mystifying one’s friends one might also then suggest that a proper Presbyterian outlook is one that holds to a radical intolerance for things cultic and a radical tolerance for things cultural. It isn’t easy to convince folks that “conservative Presbyterians” took a dim view of Prohibition or weren’t all abolitionists. This is made more complicated when otherwise Old School Presbyterians defend the prudence of Welch’s being the content of the cup, or make shouty parallels between yesteryear’s issue of slavery and the contemporary moralized politics of abortion, thereby aiding and abetting today’s revivalist crusade. Isn’t to be a traditional Calvinist also to be in league with pushing theoretically “conservative” moral agendas?  

Still, the doctrine of the spirituality of the church is actually designed to rightly order just where we should be intolerant and where we are to be tolerant. There is at once a fine line and wide gap in knowing where those bright lines should be drawn. While it seems a matter of enduring its relative absence, it would be refreshing if Old Schoolers were known for taking our freedom in Christ just as seriously as we take our binding in him. After all, it’s one thing to either affirm or deny the Virgin Birth, another to chart various courses through the politics of sex.

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58 Responses to Cool Party Trick: The Radical Intolerance and Tolerance of Presbyterian Particularism

  1. sean says:

    Fundies-presbies is a winding road, and when it’s the pastor trying to make the same trek………….well something about the blind leading the blind comes to mind. Although it makes for a strong case for weekly practice of the lord’s supper, as at least a bailout of the homily. How’s the line go; “What did you think of the sermon? Well, it was a great text.”

  2. Todd says:

    Sean

    If you need weekly communion to bail out the homily, it’s too late anyway.

  3. sean says:

    Todd,

    you gotta give me something to hold onto. I don’t have the option of reconciling to despair.

  4. Zrim says:

    Much as I principally disagree with Todd about weekly tabling (and am somewhat dazzled at how the post generated a potential rehashing of it), I have to admit he’s got a point here. Suffer me an anecdote.

    This past spring we visited a small PCA while on vacation, one we had previously visited several years before. The liturgy was sanely and exquisitely Reformed and they practiced weekly communion. The alleged sermon, however, was a lazy, understudied trainwreck. In point of fact, it was simply a booyah for Christian day schooling (which helps to keep us on topic). Its only relief was its length, which was more homily-ish than sermon-esque. I suppose one like me could’ve taken refuge in the Word seen and tasted at the table and remembered that a good liturgy hedges us in from bad preaching. And I did. But when I consider how this might be a regular occurance, the bailout idea falls quit flat.

    Couple this with how the previous first visit we had to endure a guest revivalist from England who derided and undermined everything we were doing in the liturgy (for 3x times the length and at 4x the decibels) while the regular pastor looked on with reverence and awe, my hunch is that the Word part of their Word and sacrament service makes the sacrament part a challenge.

    All that to say, when conscience is bound in the pulpit as well as out of it, the party trick becomes even harder. Who do some people think we are, Houdini?

  5. sean says:

    Well I wasn’t really trying to deviate off the post, but rather point to the difficulty of going from fundamentalist tendencies to presbyterian ones, and how that’s made exponentially more difficult given much of the preaching and theological convictions one seems to find even in ostensibly presbyterian denominations. Sure the Lord’s supper can’t actually overcome poor preaching, but given what you generally find propagated from “reformed” pulpits I’ll take what I can get. I think particularly in a lot of PCA congregations, you’re seeing wholesale abandonment of presbyterian particularity, and in that light a number of us are trying to find reason to stay at all, much less make a case for why one might wanna leave their bible community church for a presbyterian one in name only. Plus, you brought up welch’s in the cup as an example of conforming to a particular conservative moral agenda over against a more cultically faithful presbyterianism, so there’s my segue.

  6. Zrim says:

    Sean,

    You have the lion’s share of my sympathies. I’m just trying to be a gracious host to Todd. I didn’t want to let this turn into a communion debate. It’s hard on one’s forearms to keep certain discussions on task and from nose-diving.

  7. sean says:

    Oh, I wasn’t trying to really engage Todd. He actually knows what he’s doing in his calling. I wish I could say the same for an inordinately and unfortunately large number of his peers. But carry on, I’ll take my meds and try not to fidget so much.

  8. Todd says:

    I didn’t mean to take the thread off track, just sending a side note to a comment made. There is always going to be tension as I applaud your anti-fundamentalism while fidgeting as you find answers in formal liturgies and concern over Welch’s. Such is life.

  9. Rick says:

    On Topic: Good stuff, adding this book to my list. Good biographies of the giants are valuable.

    Off Topic (sort of):

    The pastor we had Sunday was talking about the Supper in his morning sermon (I love just hearing about the Supper) and said “…even as wine makes us glad…”

    I smiled and then wondered what juice does for us. Makes us pucker?

  10. Todd says:

    If our esteemed host allows it, I can respond with the problems of the wine only argument. If not it can wait for another thread.

  11. Rick says:

    Todd, I can live with the “outer ring is juice” practice.

    I will leave it there. This is off topic – so perhaps another time.

  12. Zrim says:

    Todd,

    I was hoping my anecdote might spark some discussion. But feel free to offer your insights on wine/Welches. (A recent effort to fill our pulpit centered around this mini-controversy, the candidate asserting his wine-only views amongst those who just decided to distribute gluten-free bread to go along with the Welches. I found the whole debacle unfortunate since I think the frequency of the cup is far more important the its content.)

  13. sean says:

    Well, I hope this is within the bounds of this discussion; Todd would you argue that rather than a more liturgical format, what really ails many presbyterian churches and/or denominations is a lack of either adequately trained, vetted and or simply talented pastors and doctors? I’ll gladly tip my hand and say that’s where i’ve landed on the issue. What I see coming from Dr. Clark and even Hart is an almost acquiesence to the dearth of talent/ability/training so instead it seems we are, at least in part, getting this push for a paint by numbers approach which we’re calling confessional maximalism, or strict subscription because quite frankly you can’t trust what you’re going to get otherwise. Not to say it’s the only reason for this push but at least it’s part of the background noise.

  14. RubeRad says:

    I smiled and then wondered what juice does for us. Makes us pucker?

    Not me — I like juice! Which is maybe the same as saying I’ve never made the effort it takes to appreciate wine. The only wine I drink is in communion, and the only reason I grab for the red cup instead of the clear cup is because wine is biblical. If it was a celebration banquet, or love feast, or something like that, I’d choose a beverage that tasted good…

  15. Todd says:

    Zrim,

    Thanks, first, in the gospels, the symbolism is the cup itself, not the content. “This cup” is the new covenant…Secondly, our processed wine is so different from the wine of that day, almost the only similarity is that both can get you drunk if you drink enough. So to say that we drink what Christ drank is not accurate. But even more, the Lord used the most common elements in Israel, bread and wine. The commonality and simplicity is what stands out (wilderness meal). It was not expected when the Apostles planted churches in areas without grapes that wine must be imported from Israel for their communion to be Biblical. The common elements in that particuliar country would suffice. Again, the fact that it is a common meal we partake of is much more important than the content.

    And as you stated, an emphasis on content ends up doing the exact opposite of what communion is intened to do, remind us and strengthen us in our union with Christ and one another. Finding distinctions between those who “partake biblically” verses those who do not because of the content of the cup or the type of bread misses the whole point of communion, and is actually counter-productive to communion.

  16. Zrim says:

    Todd,

    Yes, my inner Machen hesitates when the content of the cup gets the focus one way or another (as in his hesitancy to join the fundy-modernist fray over science, creation, etc. I think his line was something like, “It matters less where we came from than where we are going.”).

    Much as I side with the party of liberty, my own sense is that this particular debate can be a mere cleverly disguised fight between liberty and legalism. The real casuality is the real presence.

    So bingo for you. But frequency is still relevant in a way that content isn’t. Without getting into that one, I’d rather have gluten-free bread and Welches “at least once a week” than potato bread and wine “at most once a month.”

  17. RubeRad says:

    Potato bread? The potato is a new-world plant; there were no potatoes in 2nd Temple Judaism! (And didn’t you know that II Hesitations 3:17 specifies that the bread for communion must be King’s Hawaiian bread?)

    Reminds me also, why is the KJV always talking about corn?

    More to the point, however, there has to be some limit on liberty wrt contents. How about the church that WHI ridiculed that celebrated an anniversary by communing with elements of birthday cake and punch? Are pretzels and beer OK?

    Seems to me that a major point is to not lose the visual imagery of body and blood. Wine looks like blood. (Grape juice also — but not white whine or white grape juice)

  18. Todd says:

    Rube,

    If a church uses pretzels and beer, the problems are not really the content at that point. They are much deeper. I’m not big on the slippery slope argument anyway.

    And Zrim, I got a bingo once from you, going for two with weekly communion would make me a post-mil, so I’ll stick with what I can get.

  19. Zrim says:

    Rube,

    I’m with Todd. There seems a difference between hypotheticals and absurdities.

    Todd,

    Yuk-yuk and hardy-har-har. But it’s my posties (with their week long pietist preparatory and funeral-esque liturgies) around here who sniff at my suggestions of frequency. Apparently, communion gets in the way of transforming the world so Jesus can return. Plus, it’s “too special” (presumption of magic) and frequency is “too Catholic” (religious bigotry).

  20. Todd says:

    Well,

    I’m as a-mil as they come, I don’t even eat Post cereal, and I’m still sniffing with concern.

  21. sean says:

    Todd,

    So, liturgy is no substitute for the word rightly administered. The lord’s table is an inadequate or inappropriate bailout, wine or no, increased frequency is unjustified………anything else you wanna take while you’re at it? And where’s the pulpit supply gonna come from? I mean the rightly divided kind

  22. Todd says:

    Sean,

    Not sure what is behind the second question – what is the connection with the question on pulpit supply and your previous statements on communion and liturgy? And remember, weekly communion as a must is a new idea, I’m not taking away anything. Doesn’t make it right or wrong, just not buying the way the question is phrased.

  23. sean says:

    Todd,

    First off much of my comments are tongue in cheek. However, I’ve been complaining about the fact that “Johnny Can’t Preach” long before I was aware T.David Gordon had written on it. Secondly the OPC really likes to strip things down liturgically and emphasize the word rightly preached which in turn puts a premium on preaching and preachers. I’m good with some/all of that right up to not getting the word rightly divided, then I tend to get grumpy. I don’t really have a dog in the fight over frequency, at least in this forum, but just for the record I’m all for it as often as the word is preached. Of course if we’re gonna tie frequency to the word rightly preached then maybe I’m on your side. Having said all that, I exempted present company from my criticisms and seeing as the PCA is my current home I’ve now squared my sights on CTS. Trust me I wish these things were not so, but they are and having patiently waited on things to get better, have been forced to reconcile to the fact we are not yet on the upswing.

  24. Todd says:

    yes, I’m with you, loved Gordon’s book also.

  25. Zrim says:

    Todd,

    In our discussions about frequency I always get the impression you may be arguing against a phantom, at least with me. Who here has asserted “weekly as a must”? I certainly never have. “Weekly as the superior expression,” or “weekly because less than weekly never comes up with a persuasive affirmative argument for infrequency but seems to only be ‘weekly is suspect’,” yes.

    But I know a Reformed church in town that practices weekly. If I really understood it was a “must” wouldn’t I be there instead of my monthly communion? I know you have received inquiries to your own church that turn you out when they discover you aren’t weekly, but I agree with you that is pretty misguided. Like my PCA planter friend says, “the FVers sure give us a black eye.” I appreciate your concern, but I really think you have me conveniently pegged.

  26. Todd says:

    Well,

    I was going off your conviction that weekly was “vital.” “Vital” may be a degree lower than a must, so I will argue against vital then, when it comes up again.

  27. Zrim says:

    Todd,

    What I remain curious about is less your arguments against weekly and more your arguments for something less. I know that, in a manner of speaking, taking the elements four out of four Sundays is suspect to you, but I want to know what the affirmative argument is for refraining three out of four Sundays. Doesn’t the RPW demand you justify not only what you do, but also what you do then don’t repeat?

    Maybe a hypothetical. What do you say to a visitor who might ask, “Everything we did today and last Sunday was the same, except today no communion…why did everything else stay but that went away?” So far, the only two answers I can conceive from you are 1) after faith was created by the Word, we didn’t need it confirmed or the objective promises of the gospel as much as God says we do, and/or 2) we had it last week but not today (and we won’t next week or the week after) because other people do and that’s just weird.

  28. Rick says:

    I want to second this post and raise it.

    I see a lot of arguments against weekly communion as necessary – and that’s fine, I get it. But I never see solid arguments against weekly or solid arguments for monthly (quarterly, annually).

  29. Todd says:

    Rick,

    Well, we certainly see a pattern in the OT that the Word was taught regularly while the sacraments were administered on special occasions only. Jesus taught in the synagogues every Sabbath, but the sacraments were only needed at the festivals.

    And monthly or quarterly doesn’t have to be justified from Scripture because Scripture doesn’t address it. Communion frequency is a circumstance, in RPW terminology. I don’t need to justify Scripturally a piano over an organ for example. (Please ignore the no instrument debate and accept it as an analogy)

    Thirdly, as I stated before, there is very little in the Epistles on the central importance of the Supper to our lives (one section in one book of twenty one Epistles, where, in that one section, incedently, the Supper was given in the context of a fellowship meal, not in a formal worship service,) and yet the centrality of the Word/Gospel preached and taught is everywhere in every book. Frequency can reflect that Biblical difference.

    Fourhtly, given our view of the sufficiency of Scripture, if we needed communion weekly for our spiritual nourishment, God would have told us. It simply is not necessary, nor is monthly for that matter.

    Finally, while I think you and Zrim and most on this blog rightly see the silliness of evangelical piety not centered on the regular means of grace, I think you all at times go a bit too far in the other direction and give the means of grace too much emphasis.

    There is always a danger, and history bears this out, that too much focus on the means over God himself and his love and grace in the gospel can be counter-productive to our spiritual lives. While I should understand that attending church each week is important, we don’t want people to think missing a week forces them to miss out on God’s grace. God is so close to us in Christ, always working, always teaching, always convicting, that an over-emphasis on the church service can draw people away from a personal walk with God. I would even say, given the witness of the New Testament, we need each other much more than we need the Supper for our spiritual well-being. I think it is more biblical for Christians to attend worship because they need one another more than they need grace from the Supper.

    Now I’ve probably thrown away whatever is left of my Reformed street cred right out the window, but I’m in a good mood anyway because as I write this I’m listening to Styx’s “Castle Walls.” Ah, the musical glory days of the 70’s.

  30. Zrim says:

    Todd,

    Thanks. I can live with frequency being a matter of discretion or circumstance. What bothers, however, is the suggestion that when some choose weekly it must mean something sinister. I mean, I could respond in kind and say that monthly shows a lack of faith or something. But all I say is that it seems based upon unpersuasive arguments and is the inferior view and practice.

    This side of the table (as it were) doesn’t see the sacrament as having “central importance.” This seems to have to be repeated over and over. What we say is that the Word has a necessary and logical priority to the sacrament. We neither see how this implies that the latter should be more frequently than not forced away from the former, nor any of this implies that the two have an equality with each other. Word first, sacrament second, but always together.

    I agree that we need scriptural arguments to defend weekly frequency (and they have been offered elsewhere), but your suggestion that we need a direct and explicit command to partake weekly depends on more biblicist premises. I hear the credo-baptists demanding text that explicitly tell us to baptize our kids.

    As to the rest of your post, I think that helps clarify some other, perhaps unspoken, divergences. I think much of this may owe to the difference between those with a more churchly and institutional outlook and those with perhaps a more pietist one. I understand and appreciate your concerns, but I think they are misplaced.

    Don’t worry about your street cred around here. Your subsuming pietism is made up for by your relentless 2K. Styx are cool, but the glory days of pop music were the late 70s and most of the 80s.

  31. Todd says:

    Zrim,

    I was thinking of rock more along the lines of Pink Floyd, Kansas, Bon Jovi, Springsteen, etc…than pop, but those lines are crossed often.

    I don’t remember saying that weekly needs a direct command, it would also be a circumstance like monthly. What is dangerous is the idea that Word and sacrament must always be together, which I nor the WCF see as Biblical. And since most of my Klinean buddies have moved to weekly in recent years, I would never think it is sinister, just misguided. I trust them too much to think poorly of them, or you.

  32. Zrim says:

    Todd,

    I don’t remember saying that weekly needs a direct command.

    You said:

    Fourhtly, given our view of the sufficiency of Scripture, if we needed communion weekly for our spiritual nourishment, God would have told us.

    What is dangerous is the idea that Word and sacrament must always be together…

    Like I’ve said, I agree that “must” does seem a problem. But I still fail to see why it is a problem that amongst some they are together. I still think it seems to be a case of guilt by association to your mind. Misguided is better than sinister, but, I’m sorry, I still don’t understand why it’s misguided to regularly take advantage of the objective promises or why anyone would want to neglect the means of grace.

  33. Todd says:

    Zrim,

    Saying that the Scriptures don’t teach that we need communion every week doesn’t mean you need an explicit Scriptural command to commune weekly. I’m not following your logic. Frequency is a circumstance, whether weekly or monthly.

    It is misguided, and five hundred years of reformers have agreed, because man’s nature is to heighten the physical and symbolic beyond their intention. Weekly can give the impression (falsely) that we are receiving more grace because we do this more often. Like I said, while it does not necessarily do so, it is a danger.

  34. Zrim says:

    Todd,

    Saying that the Scriptures don’t teach that we need communion every week doesn’t mean you need an explicit Scriptural command to commune weekly. I’m not following your logic. Frequency is a circumstance, whether weekly or monthly.

    By saying “If we needed communion weekly for our spiritual nourishment, God would have told us” it seems to imply, at least to me, that you’re saying “we need a direct command in Scripture with regard to frequency, and we don’t have one.” But we don’t have direct commands to baptize our children. I’m not saying the recipients of baptism and frequency of communion are equivalent issues (since I am not at all ready to say weekly is “of the essence” of the Reformed tradition). But the ground you seem to be using, i.e. we need direct scriptural command for something, doesn’t work for paedobaptism so it seems faulty to use for weekly.

    So when we both agree that frequency is a matter of circumstance, and we say weekly, you are presuming that we are more than likely “defying 500 years of reformers, trying to heighten the physical and symbolic beyond their intention and saying we are receiving more grace because we do this more often”?

    And so anyone who says weekly is misguided because of the potential danger. So when the credo-baptist says we are in danger of presumptive regneration, we should probably refrain because, he’s right, there is that danger?

  35. Todd says:

    “And so anyone who says weekly is misguided because of the potential danger. So when the credo-baptist says we are in danger of presumptive regneration, we should probably refrain because, he’s right, there is that danger?”

    That is not persuasive. We baptize infants because it is commanded and taught in Scripture. Weekly communion is not. All I’m saying is that the Reformers, rightly in my opinion, wrongly in yours, for the last 500 years stayed away from weekly because of its potential dangers in people over-evaluating its frequent necessity, and because they did not see weekly taught in Scripture.

  36. Zrim says:

    Todd,

    Again, with regard to “the essence of the Reformed faith” (or the second mark) I’m not equating the recipients of baptism and the frequency of communion, just using your grounds, which seem to be that we need explicit scriptural command for a practice. (Maybe that’s not what you mean to begin with?). But we don’t have that for paedobaptism, so why demand it for weekly?

    I realize we are a presbyterian tradition and not an individualistic one, but at least one reformer was misguided enough to prefer weekly; it was the city council that prevented Calvin from having it. And during his time the practice was yearly.

    But the “potential dangers” argument could be used against almost everything. I might get divorced, does that mean I shouldn’t get married? I might think God is a magic genie, does that mean I shouldn’t pray frequently? I mean, the list is endless.

    Anyway, we’ve been here before. I’m still curious as to what your arguments are for less than weekly are beyond “weekly is bad.” You really haven’t answered that. Have you thought about how you’d answer the visitor I suggested above?

  37. Todd says:

    Zrim,

    The potential danger argument can be used rightly or wrongly. It is potentially dangerous for me as a pastor to counsel single women in my church privately, so I meet with them in a public place, or with my wife. It is not a sin to counsel privately, but wisdom dictates that because of its potential danger there may be better ways to do it. Not getting married because of the potential of divorce is just silly.

  38. Zrim says:

    Todd,

    Again, what do you say to a visitor who might ask, “Everything we did today and last Sunday was the same, except today no communion…why did everything else stay but that went away?”

    So far, the only two answers I can conceive from you are 1) after faith was created by the Word today, we didn’t need it confirmed or the objective promises of the gospel as much as God says we do but last week we did, and/or 2) we had it last week but not today (and we won’t next week or the week after) because other people do and that’s has potential dangers.

  39. Todd says:

    or 3) It is not necessary to have it weekly. Monthly or quaterly is sufficient to accomplish its intended purpose. And then 2). There are some potential misunderstandings we want to avoid.

  40. Rick says:

    In my observations the most common misunderstanding of the table is that it is more special and important than preaching. This misunderstanding comes from infrequency. If it is only 1 time per month or 6 times per year that we celebrate, it becomes a can’t-miss event.

    As far as potential dangers go, wouldn’t the potential danger of folks evaluating the Supper as more important than preaching because we hardly do it be a greater danger than people thinking weekly is necessary?

  41. Zrim says:

    Rick,

    Bingo.

    Weekly seems much more conducive to the idea that these are “ordinary means of grace” whereas infrequency nurtures them “extraordinary means of grace.”

  42. Todd says:

    Rick,

    That would depend on how the Supper is explained. In my monthly circles I rarely see this misunderstanding, though historically what you suggest has occured, especially in some Dutch settings.

  43. Rick says:

    Todd,
    the reverse could be true. Weekly can be done (you have yet to argue that this should not be done, other than to say there are potential dangers) if the Supper is properly explained.

    At my (Dutch tradition) Church we have proper explaination of the Supper – in fact, where the form lacks, my Pastor compensates. But the mindset is still alive with some: It’s special, it takes a week of preparation, it’s extrordinary, we can’t let it lose it’s ‘specialness’ by having it more. ‘

    Actions are often louder than words.

    By having it less than weekly, no matter how you explain it, the implication is that something more important than what we do 75% of the time is going on.

  44. Zrim says:

    Todd,

    In my weekly circles I rarely see the misunderstanding you are describing of weekly premises–the rather routine mood says a lot.

    In my monthly (or less) Dutch circles it is precisely the “specialness” which pervades. Why is that more tolerable amongst monthliers than weekliers?

  45. Todd says:

    Zrim,

    Like I said earlier, I am not against weekly if it avoids the misunderstandings, and if it is not explained in such a way as to suggest to your people that churches that do not partake weekly are not properly feeding their people spiritually. I have no room for elitism in my understanding of the gospel, which is why I do not buy the law-view of the RPW.

  46. Zrim says:

    Todd,

    Well, I know I should be grateful. But your
    allowance smacks of a sort of elitism: “Weekly is ok, so long as you satisfy my fears and at the first sight of a mistake it’s forty lashes minus one.”

    Even so, I hope it’s been made relatively clear that I agree with you that a weekly view is undermined and self-sabotaged by things like suggesting “churches that do not partake weekly are not properly feeding their people spiritually,” etc.

  47. Todd says:

    Zrim,

    I’m not quite sure, but have you backed off your previous assertion that weekly is vital for our spiritual lives? If not, I don’t know how you could not come to the conclusion you do about improper feeding. How do you harmonize those two?

  48. Zrim says:

    Todd,

    I think because you are on the lookout against potential dangers you may be making more of a word I once used than is warranted (“vital”). There’s vital and then there’s vital. I use the word synonymously with “important,” that’s all. The sacraments are as important to our spiritual edification as Word and prayer so that is how I speak. I fail to understand what gives with the sub-text of suspicion about them.

    I made the point earlier that I think what may be at play is a lower view of the church and her sacraments (you) and a higher one (me). It’s like the way evangelicals regard the confessional formulations. Evangelicals have a high opinion/low view where they are good for “guidance” and “teaching,” but they aren’t “binding” or “authoritative.” (Some have a low opinion/low view as in “paper popes.”) Confessionalists have a high opinion/high view where they are certainly good for guidance and teaching but are also binding and authoritative. In the same way, you say, “Yeah, the sacraments are really good things and all, but they’re not that important.” We say, “The sacraments are important…and efficacious and ratifying and affirming. Something is really and spiritually happening when we take them, as in real presence.”

    With your lower views I’m curious about your fandom of Robinson’s ecclesiology. I mean, the guy called the church “an essential element of the gospel.” Some might call that Romish. But maybe that’s another day.

  49. Todd says:

    Zrim,

    Thanks for your explanation of vital, that helps. I am certainly lower church than you, but probably not as much as you think. I mean, I do tell my people the Supper is important, and that weekly feeding on the Word is important, more important than their quiet times, so we are probably not as far off as it appears, though you have rightly discerned I am not as high church as you. I think the difference is that I think you emphasize the vertical in worship too much, while I see the NT emphazing the horizontal. God sanctifies us as much through our ministry and love to one another as we gather as he does through the sacraments, likely more.

    Have you read David Peterson’s book on worship, “Engaging With God, a Biblical Theology of Worship.” Reading that would explain where I am coming from.

  50. Zrim says:

    Todd,

    I am certainly lower church than you, but probably not as much as you think.

    Like I suggested, I wouldn’t characterize yours as low opinion/low view (a la the revivalists), but rather high opinion/low view. Opinions and views aren’t the same. It’s the difference between the evangelically Reformed and the confessionally Reformed.

    I have not read Peterson’s book. I’m sure you’ve read Hart’s Recovering Mother Kirk: The Case for Reformed Liturgy. That’s where I’m coming from.

  51. Todd says:

    Zrim,

    I know where you’re coming from – it’s your blog after all. I think evangelically reformed probably defines me best, with a very serious case of the 2k virus, though I find that it is rarely contagious in the Reformed world.

    Thanks

    TB

  52. dgh says:

    What the heck does weekly communion have to do with the spirituality of the church?

    Hey, wait a minute.

  53. Zrim says:

    That’s right. When one declines a seat at the culture war table he’s still got to eat and fight on a regular and frequent basis. I know it’s asking a lot, but somebody just please pass the bread and wine.

  54. Todd says:

    DGH,

    Good question – still waiting for a good answer.

  55. Zrim says:

    Todd,

    I might suggest changing your evangelically Reformed presupp’s to confessional ones, but that’s a really hard party trick.

    Instead: The SOTC still thinks there is a war going on, it just thinks it’s redemptive instead of creative. Doesn’t it seem only fitting that when fighting the world, the flesh and the devil one needs regular and frequent sustenance?

  56. Todd says:

    Zrim,

    Well, it depends on who is defining what it means to be confessional. And God’s people have been well fed and nourished by the preaching of the gospel long before the recent weekly communion push began. I think Stuart Robinson handled 2k and a high view of the church pretty well without practicing weekly communion.

  57. Zrim says:

    And God’s people have been well fed and nourished by the preaching of the gospel long before the recent weekly communion push began.

    Well, I suppose there may be some consolation in thinking that may have been what they who were good with once a year told Calvin (as long as we’re citing 2Kers) when he suggested “at least once a week.”

  58. Todd says:

    Zrim,

    Citing an extreme case of RC practice really doesn’t make the case for weekly.

    Peace,

    TB

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