A book to look for

2014/04/09

Tolle Lege has an exciting release coming out this month. I remain keenly interested in sacramental piety, especially the Reformed variety, even though a somewhat curmudgeonly friend of mine recently attempted to pour cold water on my interest in the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. How can it be otherwise? I seriously doubt that the Lord intended that Christians would repeatedly encounter baptism and His table within the life of the church without also calling us to reflect deeply on the significance of these means of grace. Hughes Old’s latest work has the look of a thorough overview of the history of Reformed Eucharistic piety. It also ought to make for some fruitful comparison with works such as Mathison’s Given For You, Maclean’s The Lord’s Supper, and Byars’s Lift Your Hearts On High. All of those works cover the history of Holy Communion in the Reformed churches to some degree but none with the scope and detail that Old’s table of contents promises.

From Form of Church Prayers, Geneva 1542:

… let us raise our hearts and minds on high, where Jesus Christ is, in the glory of his Father, and from whence we look for him at our redemption. Let us not be bemused by these earthly and corruptible elements which we see with the eye, and touch with the hand, in order to seek him there, as if he were enclosed in the bread or wine. Our souls will only then be disposed to be nourished and vivified by his substance, when they are raised above all earthly things, and carried as high as heaven, to enter the kingdom of God where he dwells. Let us therefore be content to have the bread and the wine as signs and evidences, spiritually seeking the reality where the word of God promises that we shall find it.

Source: Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed, ed. Jasper and Cuming, New York: Oxford, 1980, p. 156.

From The Strasbourg Rite, 1539:

And may all of us, here gathered before you, in the name of your Son and at your table, O God and Father, truly and profoundly acknowledge the sin and depravity in which we were born, and into which we thrust ourselves more and more deeply by our sinful life. And since there is nothing good in our flesh, indeed since our flesh and blood cannot inherit your kingdom, grant that we may yield ourselves with all our hearts in true faith to your Son, our only Redeemer and Saviour. And since, for our sake, he has not only offered his body and blood upon the cross to you for our sin, but also wishes to give them to us for food and drink unto eternal life, grant that we may accept his goodness and gift with complete longing and devotion, and faithfully partake of and enjoy his true Body and Blood—even himself, our Saviour, true God and true man, the only true bread from heaven; so that we may live no more in our sins and depravity, but that he may live in us and we in him – a holy, blessed and eternal life, verily partaking of the true and eternal testament, the covenant of grace, in sure confidence that you will be our gracious Father for ever, never again reckoning our sins against us, and in all things providing for us in body and soul, as your heirs and dear children: so that we may at all times give thanks and praise, and glorify your holy name in all that we say and do.

Source: Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed, ed. Jasper and Cuming, New York: Oxford, 1980, pp. 150-151.

From Rick Phillips on the effort to prohibit intinction* in the Presbyterian Church in America:

It seems likely that this amendment is going to fail to achieve the necessary 2/3 of presbyteries to be approved, so that we will see the novelty of a Reformed Presbyterian denomination approving a procedure historically associated with the Roman Catholic Mass. What is more revealing, and to me discouraging, is the kind of argument being reported in presbytery after presbytery.

Typical arguments include the following:

“People doing intinction are just trying to reach people with the gospel. Why are we giving them a hard time?”

“What is wrong with the PCA that we even debate silly things like this?”

“Are we really going to say that brothers are wrong and force them to do things our way?”

There is, of course, no doctrine or practice that can be excluded under the above arguments, which it seems will carry the day in the PCA.

(emphasis added)

That last comment about the impossibility of excluding any practice hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. It’s now commonplace for sentimental arguments to sway Presbyterian bodies. Whatever celebrates diversity, whatever exalts “love” over common belief and practice, whatever is most “ecumenical” or “catholic,” tolerate these things. (Never mind that novel, unbiblical practices strike at Reformed catholicity). Deep irony rests in the fact that doctrinal and liturgical openness have the potential to destroy the soul of the PCA (and other Reformed bodies) before it becomes the big tent church the revisionist side desires.

True, there are more substantive arguments to be found (even if they ultimately fail) for the progressive positions in the Presbyterian world (eg. paedo-communion, “High Church” liturgy, drama-in-worship, deaconesses, religious images and artwork, recreation on the Lord’s Day). We should hope so, because there is no way one will differentiate a Reformed church from anything using the reasons Rick Phillips lists above.

* Intinction is the practice of dipping the bread into the wine in the observance of the Lord’s Supper.

The Westminster Directory of Public WorshipThe Westminster Directory of Public Worship by Sinclair B. Ferguson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Westminster Directory of Public Worship: Discussed by Mark Dever & Sinclair Ferguson brings to our time some deep wisdom for the public and private worship of God, along with two fine recommendations of the Puritan contribution to Christian ministry. The opening essays come from the pens of two Pastor-Scholars. Sinclair Ferguson’s piece deftly explains the Puritan model for the Minister of the Gospel. Ferguson conveys a concise history of the Reformation in England and Scotland and the high points of the Puritan care of souls with flowing prose.

Mark Dever takes up the Puritan view of preaching, explaining the teaching of the Westminster Directory with many delightful anecdotes and powerful quotations from the seventeenth century Puritans. Both Christian minister and layman will be blessed by meditating on these essays.

The Directory itself opens with an informative Preface giving the rationale for rejection of the Book of Common Prayer and the alternative approach found here. The pattern of the Directory lies in advising the minister on what sorts of things to pray, declare, and preach in worship rather than in setting out specific forms. It is fascinating to note, however, that an order of service emerges from the suggestions of Westminster. Even in the matter of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, many traditional elements remain. As William Maxwell put it, “Forms are inevitable in any act of public worship, unless it be a Quaker meeting.”

The chapter “Of Assembling of the Congregation” is filled with searching guidance on how to reverently frame one’s mind for worship. Even though the chapter has some clear marks of its time and place (seventeenth century Scotland and England), it remains powerful and timely. The chapters on prayer, especially the one on prayer before the sermon, are quite comprehensive in their coverage of the content of worshipful prayer. The chapter on preaching is a beautiful digest of Biblical exposition and application, making obvious the high regard found in the two opening essays. The chapters on the sacraments closely reflect the teaching of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. The service of baptism presupposes infant baptism and presents some good suggestions for teaching the Biblical basis of the practice during its administration. The administration of the Lord’s Supper according to the Directory has a stately simplicity. One interesting aspect is that administration of the Supper seems to be “about” or “at” the table on which the bread and wine are placed. Of the remaining portions, it is worth mentioning that the chapter on visitation of the sick equips ministers with strong medicine for the soul while the body is ailing. The same chapter includes profound meditations on the transitory nature of earthly life and the glorious hope of heaven.

This book presents a wonderful and neglected monument in the tradition of Reformed liturgy. The Directory majestically reflects the reality that no set liturgies are set down in the Bible, in that way recommending the latitude, breadth, and discretion of its guidelines. I found myself missing an essay discussing the observance of the Sacraments or of some other element beside preaching and pastoral care. Still, what we have here is of such value that everyone interested in Biblical worship should prayerfully read this slender volume.

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An Outline Of Christian Worship Its Development And FormsAn Outline Of Christian Worship Its Development And Forms by William D. Maxwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maxwell’s An Outline of Christian Worship is one of those reading pleasures. Not so much in itself, but in the fact that a good friend stirred my interest in it. I felt drawn to reading it because of what he said about his experience with the book. Of all the books I’ve read, those recommended to me by friends, particularly the ones physically placed in my hands for perusal, have been some of the most meaningful. I wouldn’t say this was a great book but it certainly has been something that helped me grow in my understanding of Christian worship.

William Maxwell takes his reader on a journey through almost 2000 years of Christian worship. Early in the book he alerts us to what was for me a striking thesis. Maxwell contends that the Lord’s Supper grew out of a Jewish tradition called Kiddush and not the Passover. Maxwell describes this tradition as “a simple repast shared weekly by small groups of male Jews, very often by a rabbi and his disciples.” He goes on to say that “Its purpose was to prepare for the Sabbath or a festival, and it was religious in character.” I leave it to the reader to explore the evidence presented for this thesis but I found it plausible.

Moving on to the early church, Maxwell sets himself to point out a developing pattern of Christian worship centered around the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. He discusses the earliest evidence of Christian liturgies, with separate chapters on the liturgies in the East and the West. As a sample, take this engaging fact from the Middle Ages: the distinction of the Gallican and Roman rites in the West. There is much detail about these two liturgical traditions, including the eventual ascendancy of the Roman over the Gallican and how the Gallican still influenced the Roman.

After surveying the early church and the Medieval period, Maxwell embarks on the largest part of his survey, the liturgies of the Reformation churches. He gives outlines of the liturgies of Luther and Zwingli and discusses them but seems decidedly dismissive of their value. In fact, Maxwell disappoints in mentioning the creativity of Lutheran liturgies outside of Germany while neglecting to outline or discuss them.

Once Maxwell arrives at the Reformed liturgies of Strasbourg and Geneva, we can tell by the level of detail that he believes these rites are of special importance. The section on the Reformation liturgies continues with Reformed rites in England and Scotland as well as the story of the Book of Common Prayer in both lands. I was fascinated by Maxwell’s proposal for outlining the service suggested by the Westminster Directory of Public Worship. I take away from it that while the Westminster Directory was, in part, a reaction to the set forms of the Book of Common Prayer, it was not a rejection of the historic genius of Christian worship to follow a certain logic. Rather the Westminster Directory gives us a service that rightly encourages a Biblical breadth and freedom as far as what is said during worship. Maxwell is not as positive about Westminster as about other liturgies but that points up how he provides enough material for his readers to constructively argue with him. Maxwell rounds out his book with discussions of some modern liturgies, the daily offices, the Christian Year, and forms of prayer. The latter section includes a helpful, though technical discussion of those pithy written prayers known as “collects.”

Overall, this book is a good introduction to its subject but may be too technical at points for complete comprehensibility by a beginner. The difficulties include a fair amount of Latin quotations and terminology. Maxwell also fails to succinctly define some of the key terms used throughout. Bard Thompson’s Liturgies of the Western Church may be more approachable, though it is a longer book. Once a reader has a little background, Maxwell can be read with profit. I am so glad that my friend told me about this book because I was reminded of some material that I previously studied and was also challenged to continue to pursue this important topic.

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