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September 30, 2008


For what it's worth, Hughes Old also is "sympatico" with the Communion Season, a practice among Scottish Presbyterians that is at odds with weekly observance of the Supper. If you were to observe Communion Seasons weekly, you'd never have a day for work. The Dutch Reformed also have traditions and forms for preparing for the Lord's Supper which are to be read a week before the observance of Communion. Whatever the merits of these practices, I wonder if advocates of weekly Commmunion (myself included) have taken into account the reasons that led our Reformed forefathers to establish conditions for prepared partaking of the Supper.

Phil and Darryl:
These are irenic thoughts and good questions you are asking about the Boyd presentation.

I too was struck especially by the emphasis upon the Fifth Commandment. On reflection, however, I have come to the conclusion that this was not used in an even-handed way. Here's why.

Bill Boyd summoned this principle of 'honoring' those who have gone before us while in effect calling the PCA 'status quo' into question. I say what I say here not out of blind loyalty to the PCA 'status quo' but because I am chagrined to note in the PCA repeated appeals to things long ago in the Christian and in the Reformed past when there is relatively little regard for how these things have been transmitted to us, through time, in the branch of the Christian family we are actually a part of. The implication is that some 'gem' from the past easily trumps how a theological or liturgical principle has actually reached us.
Thus, it is helpful to be steered by Darryl towards the writings of Hughes Oliphant Olds.

Isn't this syndrome of appealing to the remote Christian past to trump the more recent past especially to be guarded against when (as is regularly admitted)so many pastors and church planters in the PCA have found an adoptive home in Presbyterianism? On a large scale, this means that we are increasingly encountering the past through reading - as opposed to finding the Christian past transmitted to us through the church. Both approaches are needed, but at the moment the practice of the church as it has actually been transmitted to us seems to be suffering from 'price markdown'.

Ken Stewart

The image of the Banqueting Hall is appealing and Biblical. But where is the equal emphasis on "proclaiming the Lord's death"? The bread which we eat is a body broken, cruelly, with inexpressible suffering. The wine we drink is blood not inside the body where it belongs, but hideously running out, for us. The feasting robes required were purchased for us, at terrible cost. We come in thankfulness, we come in deep, deep joy, but we also come with deep repentance, because we cannot forget the cost, and we know that we are not worth it. We repeatedly fail in living each day as those who have died with Christ, and now live by taith in Him. His body is food indeed, his blood is drink indeed, the food of His life wihin, our now true, eternal life.

The invitation to the Feast is exhiliarating Good News, but it is always predicated on our first seeking mercy in response to the Bad News that we are forever excluded from this feast unless the Father has drawn us and made us alive through Christ, by faith, because of His death for us. That is the price of our being at the table that our Savior paid; we pay nothing, but we must come in true repentance for our sins, and belief in the sacrifice we are remembering.


I'm not sure what your comment entails practically?

Does it mean that nothing should ever change and that we should simply repeat what our immediate predecessors have done? If so, then the Reformers themselves would stand condemned for drawing on the ancient past (both biblical and patristic) to critique and correct the more recent past. If not, then how should liturgical reform take place in a way that accommodates your concern?

I would say that any faithful pastor ought to be sensitive to the recent past and contemporary context of a particular congregation and denominational tradition in seeking to change this or that aspect of a church's liturgical practice. We ought to learn and teach that history. No one should arrive at any firm conclusions without having done that homework. And we also ought to put the best construction on the motives and judgments of others in our past (especially those with whom we disagree), and seek as much organic continuity of practice over time as possible. However, it still seems possible that we can do all that and still come to the conclusion that our nearest historical predecessors made some substantial mistakes, no? The problem is compounded by the fact that our Reformed family simply does not speak with one voice on many, many liturgical matters. Our Reformed liturgical history shows that some practices were sometimes adopted (and firmly cemented) for accidental historical contingencies that had no real biblical or theological basis and became entrenched as a sort of mere traditionalism or defended with (sometimes questionable) theological arguments that were invented after the practice had been adopted for other reasons. How should a contemporary Reformed pastor and churches respond when he comes to believe that some later Reformed worship practices in history have often failed to realize some of the early Reformed liturgical ideals?

I'm for weekly, but a little disturbed that this is the conversation. Advocacy of weekly administration is frequently expressed with criticisms of what happens without it—Gnosticism, individualism, doctrinal sectarianism, addiction to some man-made sign for assurance, various strains on piety. If those issues are so important (yes!) BUT frequency a point of harmless variation, we must articulate more comprehensive categories in which worship can be denuded or renewed regardless of frequency issue.

What so underlies worship that, if it turns pallid so will either frequency pattern?

Bill speaks of the visceral, the physical and the significance of inhabiting/engaging the reality which is described in our theology. I think the strongest point in this direction, ambivalent in regards to frequency of the supper, was the suggestion that the most deleterious factor in our worship would be "pretending to love our neighbor." That looks prime for renewal and is not subject to much "diversity" in our various theological formulations.(Of course, maybe that's because we haven't thought about it as much, I jest at our tendency to disagree as a function of our being learned.)

And, that brings up another concern: one of ethos. I'm fond of the same V. Morrison lyric: "Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time." But, Bill’s ethos of worship seems to be copacetic if not trimphalistic (well, trimphalistic for 75 minutes, on a weekly basis). I have a hard time seeing the depressed uncle at the table, not that he couldn't be-- but the whole visceral picture that is offered is rather like a pleasant evening out.

Tears and groans in Scripture often have positive value. In Romans 8:18ff, it seems groaning is a fruit of the Spirit. Belongs in the ethos. Also, the ethos seems to underestimate the "contact sport" quality of worship. It the New Testament Epistles suggest any generality about the church across those diverse occasions, it comes to the fore in Paul's need to change what folks think and meddle with what they are doing. Bill's ethos is most like Ephesians, but is that enough? A lot of what God is doing in our lives, and so also/most intimately in worship, is helping us lose are arguments with him.

I think/hope Bill would/will nod in that pondering way of his at these observations, and then improve them. If we are going to renew worship, then it can’t be mostly by improving what we say is open to wholesome variation but in addressing what actually determines the wholesomeness of any variation (including “mine” which is “right”).

Dear Mike Farley:
You are right to pick up on the potential abuse or mis-use of the line of argument I laid down. Personally,I don't want tyranny of either kind: that of the 'status quo' or that of select individuals 'arc-ing' over recent centuries to give us the 'good stuff' from longer ago.

Since Bill Boyd has enunciated the principle that we ought to honor our theological Fathers, and yet indicated that current worship trends in the PCA leave an awful lot to be desired, it would _appear_ that he is leaning to the 'arc' method. I want to make plain that I do not impute any particular abuse of this idea to Bill. But I have drawn attention to the affinities of some of the things he is saying (and which Reggie is affirming) with trends in contemporary broad evangelical Protestantism. So much of this is characterized by theological romanticism, i.e. the glorifying of various past eras of the church and the eclectic borrowing of ideas and practices. You will find a strong protest against this kind of theological romanticism (especially as it touches on the Early Church) in the interesting writings of D.H. Williams, formerly of Loyola, Chicago and now at Baylor.
Not because I want to be bound by tradition, but because I think we all want to be able to access tradition in an even-handed and non-tendentious way, I am hoping that we will apply ourselves to the study of how the Reformed tradition has actually travelled over the past centuries. There have been mistakes made, but also substantial advances.

Ken Stewart
Covenant College

Mr. Boyd,

I don't know enough about the theology of worship to contribute anything meaningful to this discussion, so I just wanted to thank you for developing a large portion of your talk from a non-Reformed resource. Your use of Alexander Schmemann's "For The Life of the World" was delightful. Thank you!

I am personally committed to the Reformed tradition but think we can be more "catholic" by utilizing resources from various Christian traditions to enhance and challenge our theology.

in Christ brother,


I was surprised by your comment, “No one in the Reformed tradition, as far as I am aware, would advocate the Lecture Hall (however glorified) as the normative paradigm for God-centered worship.”

Do you think, none-the-less, that we often default to worship being more of a Lecture-Hall (or a funeral service as I read advocated recently)? Maybe few would say, “worship should be more like a lecture hall than a banquet,” but is it fair to say, that’s the way it most often is in our churches? I often wonder, what has happened to our joy? What ought Fellowship-with-God in worship look like?

I loved Schmemann's "For The Life of the World" (found it to be paradigm shifting)- what did you think? I think Bill’s fleshed out (pun intended) that a good Biblical exegetical approach to the Lord’s Supper means we can/should relax the Scottish paranoia (“we’re not Catholic!!!”). Some of our reformed history/creeds seem to make this “the primary thing we have to say about the Lord’s Supper.” Likewise, I appreciated Bill’s talk as a thoroughly Calvinistic approach- this is a great mystery! The Lord’s Supper is “spiritual,” (WCF) but the spiritual is real! I am so appreciative of how the PCA has developed its biblical mysticism in its approach to the Lord’s Supper.

Lastly, in reading through the posts to the earlier talks, I wonder if you have anything to say in addressing the many (fearful or alarmed) concerns that were raised about the motivation/direction of this whole conference as manifested in these talks, i.e. especially with reference to the posts following Greg’s introduction. Do you have any reflections on how Bill’s talk connected to Greg’s? It seems like the concerns about, “what does this mean, practically?” are being addressed with greater hope and joy in each of the subsequent talks/posts.


Ken: like Mike Farley I'm confused on what your point is exactly with regard to the Reformed tradition. Since I am one of those who often "finds gems" from the past to inform the present, and because I think the current status quo is more infected with the malaria of revivalist-driven experientialism than with Reformed sobriety, I am likely one of those whom you think need to reflect more on the way the tradition has been handed down. (And I would counter that you may need to reflect more on the way revivalst Presbyterians have handed down and parsed the tradition.)

But when it comes to worship, I think it is fair to compare the average service of today with one from the past, both in terms of the text -- the order of service -- and the subtext -- the ethos or feel of the service. I for one do not understand how Reformed worship could be anything other than sober, restrained, dignfied, and simple. The Regulative Principle itself helps with this but you can follow the book and still have a frivolous execution of "the elements." The RPW was given to insure the Word-centered and regulated character of Reformed worship.

Still, older Christian worship more generally, whether liturgical or the non-prayer book variety, was captured by a sense that worshipers, unworthy servants that they are, were approaching a holy and righteous God, and that worship should not be treated casually (the suburban version) or entertainingly (the seeker-service, emergent version). One reason why we low church Protestants lose our children to Rome is not for the show. Anglo-Catholics do smells and bells much better than Rome, and Rome's music these days is wretched. But Rome does have a sense that a distance exists between God and his people, and that approaching him needs to be careful and reverent. Maybe even filled with awe. And they also care at least about the sex of those officiating (even if the sexual escapades of officiants has not redounded to Rome's credit). Being intimidated by the nature and responsibilities of worship is something we could learn from Christian worship before P&W. (For what it's worth, I believe revivalism sowed the seeds of P&W by making the experience of the worshiper the standard of a good service.)

I am happy to say that neither you, nor any person holding your outlook was on my mind as I composed that posting.

I have been reading a lot of and about John Henry Newman in the last few years and it has made me view a lot of the 'fal de rah' to do with worship renewal in a very different light. The recipe calls for evangelical Protestants who are insecure in their Protestantism and looking for something that will give them 'gravitas' in theology and worship. They are led to believe that approximation to Roman or Eastern Orthodox models will give them this 'gravitas'; they also find the non-Protestant intellectual tradition to be weighty and thus, attractive. Blend these factors and you have 'John Henry Newman Re-Mixed' for our time.
For those who are curious about this, please see my article 'Evangelicalism and Patristic Christianity: 1517 to the Present' in the October number (2008) of Evangelical Quarterly. Those who do not have access to this journal can email me (ken.stewart@covenant.edu) for a copy.

Whether the attraction is to the second-century Apostolic Fathers, the Nicene theologians - or for that matter Calvin's Geneva, what we all need to be wary of is the person who is ready to selectively 'dip' into the long ago and to tell us what we have missed. Where this involves no principled appropriation of the past (as opposed to cherry-picking appropriation of the past)we will have nothing but trouble.
Ken Stewart
Covenant College

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