Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘liturgy’


If you are like me your experience with and knowledge of Eastern Orthodoxy is limited. I grew up Catholic so I understand Roman Catholicism. To many Protestants the Eastern Church is quite mysterious. Rare are the books by Protestants about Eastern Orthodoxy. Robert Letham has written a good book to help people like me understand our brothers and sisters from the East. In this day, with increased persecution in places like Iraq and Syria we hear more about Eastern Orthodoxy. The vast majority of them are not Protestant but either Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.

Letham’s book, Through Western Eyes, is not a polemical book. His purpose is not to expose the errors of Eastern Orthodoxy. He does compare and contrast its teaching on various doctrines with both Roman Catholicism and Reformed Theology. Why just Reformed Theology (and a bit of Luthernism)? Like Roman Catholicism it is a confessional faith. Much of evangelicalism shuns creeds and confessions therefore exhibiting a wide variety of beliefs. Letham himself also comes from a Reformed perspective and therefore compares it to what he knows and loves best.

Letham structures the book in 3 sections: history, theology and evaluation. The third section is not very long. In it he seeks to point out areas where we could learn from them, where they could learn from us, gross misunderstanding and divergence.

The section on theology spends much of its pages dealing with the ecumenical councils. How they do theology is quite different than how we have done theology. Since the Scholastics and particularly since the Enlightenment theology in the West has been done in the universities, and not necessarily in the church. There have been numerous confessions and catechisms to lay out theology as well as many systematic theology books. Theology in the Eastern Church is grounded on the Councils (which we also affirm for the most part), communicated in their liturgy and is done mostly by church men: pastors and bishops. Their dependence on the creeds reflect their understanding of polity: there is no hierarchical structure. The Patriarchs do not function like archbishops or the Pope. How their theology developed is interesting, at least to me.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


unPlanned is the story of how Abby Johnson went from being the director of a Planned Parenthood (PP) office to being an advocate for the pro-life movement. It is a story worth reading as she tries to fairly assess both sides of this controversial issue. She has seen the issue from both sides and hates the extremes of both sides.

In an earlier post I mentioned the disconnect. Her story begins with disconnect. Her life and doctrine were disconnected. She believed one thing and did another. This led her to have secrets. She makes an interesting observation about secrets.

“Once it had taken hold within me, my secret had the power to shape and influence my reasoning, my perspective, my conscience. Years later, I would discover that the box in my soul wasn’t sealed as well as I’d thought. It was releasing undetectable yet poisonous fumes that wafted through my soul in silence and contaminated my heart.”

Her secret was that before her first (ill-advised) marriage she had her first abortion. She now understands more of the implications. She had to face not only the killing of her child, but depriving her parents of grandchildren. We don’t live on an island. And those secrets leak out. They shape our decisions and our perspective on the world.

Her secret made her an easy recruit for PP in college. She rightfully wanted to help women but her own baggage had to be justified. She heard the talking points about wanting to make abortion rare, and feeling guilty wanted to defend herself and others from the perceived condemnation of the pro-life movement. She is honest about the power of self-deception. She started to tell herself little lies, and then bigger lies, to justify her increasing role within PP.

The wicked flee when no one pursues,
    but the righteous are bold as a lion. Proverbs 28

She speaks of her spiritual struggle during those years. God seemed so far away from her. She didn’t understand why. But she did experience rejection from one church when they discovered where she worked. She and her husband were denied membership and encouraged to move on. Later, after her “conversion” she was essentially told to leave the “pro-choice” denomination with its liturgy that slowly reshaped her heart. Strange how pastors can allow such issues to keep them from ministering to people. I may have denied her membership, but invited her to stay and “see what happens.” That might not have been welcome words. But God can change hearts.

13 Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
    but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Proverbs 28

She shares her perspective on the pro-life movement as an outsider. She entered PP thinking they were mostly extremists. Dhe did  meet some extremists. at the fence which while literal also functioned as a metaphor throughout the book. But she also met compassionate, caring people at the fence too. There were more of them, and they worked to get rid of the crazies. Slowly her misconceptions about the pro-life movement were being challenged. She struggled with the paranoia of PP’s leadership and yet found it a safe place to hide due to her own guilt all at the same time. She also came to see, slowly, that the talking points were just that- talking points that really didn’t reflect the decisions being made by those in power.

She does not get into the “politics” of the issue. There is no mention of a politician. But as I ruminated on the book and the time frame of the events I noticed something. Senator Obama’s talking points on abortion during the Presidential election (which duped so many evangelicals) sounded remarkably like Planned Parenthood’s talking points, including making abortion rare. Yet, it was during his administration that PP lost their grant money for birth-control. This meant that more children would be conceived in less than desirable circumstances so women sought divorce, and PP needed to perform more abortions to pay their bills. That was the money-maker and they pushed directors to perform more, and were contemplating doing late-term abortions.

Abby was caught in the middle of this change by what was happening inwardly. The rules had changed on her and she was asked to go beyond her comfort zone. It seemed increasingly less about helping women and more about ideology and making money. And then came the fateful day.

The title is a double entendre: she was “removed” from PP, and this was not her plan. But it was someone’s plan: God’s. Many of the pro-life leaders in her community had been praying for her for years. Those prayers began to be answered as she was forced to participate in an ultra-sound guided abortion. She saw what actually happened inside the womb during an abortion. She could not prop up her shaky convictions with the well-intended lies anymore. Now she knew she had to get out.

Those who forsake the law praise the wicked,
    but those who keep the law strive against them.
Evil men do not understand justice,
    but those who seek the Lord understand it completely. Proverbs 28

The continues her story as she finds help from her former “enemies” and betrayal at the hands of “friends.” It moves into the injunction PP sought against her (without grounds) and her “coming out” to the media.

This book is a quick read. It moves along fairly well, though there were times I did want her to move faster. It comes across, to me, as an honest, humble read. It is, at times, an emotionally difficult read. There will most likely be tears. It tries (and mostly succeeds) to be a fair read. She doesn’t demonize PP though she is honest about the actions of some people in PP. She does see a difference between the average volunteer and those higher up in the organization. She was wronged by them as they turned on her for leaving. She made no public statements until after they made a press release. It is important to know that there is often a big difference in motive between PP and many who volunteer or work there. Her unspoken lesson is that we need to win them to “our side” in a way similar to how she was won over: prayer while you wait for God to act.

Copernican revolutions are never easy. In this case she had the support of her husband and family who never wanted her working there in the first place. She found newer, truer friends among many of those who had been praying for her for years. They loved her even when she was on the other side of the fence. She lost many “situational friendships” when she left PP. They didn’t love her despite their differences of opinion on this ethical matter: She was seen as betrayer and persona non grata.

On the flip side, she found forgiveness as she admitted her own sin. She experienced freedom from condemnation for her own abortions, and the many she had participated in. She wants people to hear the offer of grace, not the words of condemnation. Those of us who are pro-life need to be reminded all too often.

It is a book I wish more people would read because it is honest about PP. The good, and the bad. It gets past the talking points and propaganda we hear. It is like something of a cult in many ways. They have a doctrine that is disconnected from practice, an outward face that hides the inward reality. They are afraid of those “outside” and paint them in the worst possible light. They turn like rabid dogs on those who leave. Yeah, perhaps we need to talk about the cult of Planned Parenthood and its child sacrifice.

Read Full Post »


In the earlier chapters of his book, The Creedal Imperative, Carl Trueman builds a biblical case for the use of creeds. He interacted with some of the contemporary issues that often undermine the use and value of creeds and confessions exposing their folly and short-sightedness. He then examined some of the ecumenical creeds and Reformed Confessions, giving insight into their development. The latter chapters of the book focus on the usefulness and value of these creeds and confessions in the life of the church and the Christian.

In the congregation I serve as pastor, we have a Confession of Faith as part of our weekly liturgy. We don’t use the same creed each Sunday. Sometimes we go through the Heidelberg Catechism over the course of a year. Right now we read the Apostles’ Creed on 1st Sundays, the Nicene Creed on 3rd Sundays and the other weeks draw from a variety of sources (Scripture as well as various creeds, confessions and covenants). This is a regular part of our liturgy because we believe that confessing our faith should be a regular part of our worship (just as we regularly confess our sin and receive the Lord’s Table). Confessions like this, Trueman argues, are acts of praise. The praise is expressed in the church’s theology, but it is praise.

“This is a vital point, and we do well to remember that our creeds and confessions are not simply boundary markers but also that they arise out of a desire to praise God, the content of which praise should be the same as that of said creeds and confessions.”

He gives the example of 1 Timothy 1:15ff, which is one of my favorite passages. Paul offers a theology of the incarnation in terms of its purpose, and offers praise as well. The truth results in praise, and its itself intended to be praise by saying in what ways our God is great.

“Thus, the Trinitarian controversies of the early centuries are nothing if not heated debates about the nature of Christian worship and the nature of Christian belonging.”

(more…)

Read Full Post »


"Fix your eyes upon Jesus..."

The length of worship services has been an issue for as long as the church as existed.  Paul preached so long at one evening gathering that a guy fell asleep and dropped out the window.  Most of us are used to people falling asleep on us.

Some shared an article from our cousins over the pond about the length of worship services.  The basic point of a bishop was that more people will come more regularly if the service is shorter.  At one point the Anglican service was about 50 minutes.  Knowing they celebrate the Table each Sunday, I find this hard to believe.

But the Bishop of Lichfield thinks that servies have become too long and too complicated.  As a result, non-regular church goers are increasingly confused and unwilling to show up.  One survey indicates that Anglican clergy are preaching for as long as 42 minutes and services have crept up to 90 minutes.  But it isn’t just the sermon that is longer.  They are singing and praying longer (perish the thought- discipline these hacks!).

(more…)

Read Full Post »


Yes, it has been since before my vacation that I’ve read any of Recovering the Reformed Confession. I’ve been quite busy since I’ve been back.  But I’m picking up with Recovering Reformed Worship.

Immediately he is lamenting the changes to worship liturgy in the last 30 years, including the loss of the Psalter.  He quotes D.G. Hart:

“… more congregations in the PCUSA are likely to follow the Genevan order of service than those in the OPC or PCA.”

My initial response is that the Genevan order of service isn’t getting them too far.  I’d rather keep Calvin’s theology than his order of service.

We actually utilize a fairly traditional liturgy or structure to our worship (Call to Worship, Invocation, Confession of Sin, Confession of Faith, Pastoral Prayer, Scripture Reading & Sermon, Benediction).  We want the heritage to inform us, but not enslave us.  Clark is alarmed that Calvin, the Heidelberg Reformers and others would not recognize our worship services.  Neither would the Apostles.  For that matter, they wouldn’t recognize the services of Calvin and the others either.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching is one of the better books on preaching.  It would be easy to get worn down in the nuts and bolts of that book and miss the big picture that Chapell is trying to convey.

The same could be said for his newest book, Christ-Centered Worship.  It is not a nuts and bolts book (unlike his book on preaching).  It focuses on the big picture of worship, which is becoming quite rare these days.  His goal is not to advocate any particular form of worship- but rather to communicate that the gospel should shape our worship so that it shapes us.  If the gospel is not shaping our worship, then our worship (which really won’t be worship after all) is shaping us into something it should not.

“We consider the history because God does not give all of his wisdom to any one time or people.  Slavish loyalty to traditions will keep us from ministering effectively to our generation, but trashing the past entirely denies God’s purposes for the church on which we must build.”

So, Chapell tries to walk that fine line of being instructed by not enslaved by the past.   Chapell begins by comparing the liturgies of the Western Church to show how alike they tend to be.  He doesn’t want to ignore the differences between them, but focuses on the big picture- that the liturgies themselves are designed to present the gospel each week.  It is because we have forgotten that the gospel is to shape our worship that we have some many problems with worship.

“Because they have not been taught to think of the worship service as having gospel purposes, people instinctively think of its elements only in terms of personal preference: what makes me feel good, comfortable, or respectful.”

The particular liturgies he examines are that of Rome (pre-1570), Luther’s, Calvin’s, the Westminster liturgy and one proposed by Robert Rayburn in the late 20th century.  To most American evangelicals, these will seem quite foreign because we have mostly abandoned liturgies of the past.  We have done this not realizing they were intended to communicate the gospel.  As a result, worship in America is often devoid of the gospel.  It becomes more about styles and preferences.

The pattern they had in common is one of Adoration => Call to Worship=> Confession of Sin => Scripture Reading=> Sermon=> Singing of a Creed, Psalm or Hymn=> Offering=> Communion => Song of Response=> Benediction.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


Though I grew up in a nominally Catholic family, and went to Mass most Saturdays, I grew up affirming evolution.  Like most boys, I like dinosaurs and cavemen.  We had the Time Life series of books on science, and I spent lots of time reading about the theory of evolution (sadly I’ve engaged in debates with people whether it was a theory, a hypothesis etc. but I don’t care what you call as long as you don’t call it a fact).  In school we watched those videos about the moths in England near the factories and other stories of evolution within a species.  I had no reason to doubt that this was an accurate interpretation of the data and explanation for our existence on this planet.  In fact, I did not doubt it was true.

Off to Boston University (no, not Boston College the more famous Catholic institution down the street that we usually beat in hockey).  I was required to take a lab science.  I hate lab sciences.  I inevitably mess up the experiments.  But just prior to my sophomore year, a class caught my eye.  It was …. Bioastronomy and the Search for Extraterrestial Life.  It was a lab science, but one without experiments!  I was all over that class!

The premise of the course was that the only way to determine if the possibility there was life on other planets was to study how life supposedly came to exist on this planet.  As a result we studied astronomy and evolution to arrive at an equation to determine that possibility.

A liberal blog that decided to make fun of my in this matter among others, figured that the professor didn’t do a very good job.  I think the professor did a fine job communicating the material to the converted.  But something happened to me.  I began to see all the factors that were vital to the existence of life.  At the end of the class there was a 1 in 10 to the 26th power chance of there being life (or something like that).  That is 1 followed by 26 zeroes.  That seemed quite unlikely to me.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »