31 August 2001

confession of sin

In Institutes 3.4.12-14 Calvin writes that we should privately confess our sins to one another for the purposes of "mutual advice and consolation" and "to reconcile another to us, if we have done him any injury." Moreover, even though we may so confess (for advice and consolation) to any other Christian,
since Pastors must be considered more proper for this than others, we ought chiefly to make choice of them...ministers are constituted by God as witnesses and as it were sureties, to certify our consciences of the remission of sins; insomuch as they themselves are said to remit sin and loose souls.
Calvin goes on to say that while such confession should be freely made and not due to some kind of externally imposed obligation, it is still such a good thing that he wishes that it would be "universally observed" that before partaking of the eucharist "the sheep should present themselves to their pastor" for confession, admonishment, and consolation. According to Calvin, when confession is made, whether generally as a congregation within the liturgy or privately to a pastor, the absolution which the pastor declares is "pronounced in the name of his Master and by his authority" and that "private absolution is no less efficacious or beneficial."

With regard to general confession and absolution in the liturgy, at Strasbourg Calvin used the following words of absolution in his French liturgy, which he composed working from Bucer's German model:
Let each of you confess that you are truly a sinner who must humble himself before God and believe that the heavenly Father will be gracious to you in Jesus Christ. To all who have repentance and who seek Jesus Christ for their salvation, I pronounce forgiveness in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
In Strasbourg the opening rites (opening sentence, confession, absolution, commandments, kyrie, prayer) were led by the minister from behind the communion table rather than the pulpit. When Calvin returned to Geneva he was forced to alter the liturgy in ways not entirely to his liking.

For more on the practice of private confession within the Reformed tradition, see Max Thurian's book Confession (SCM 1958). For more of the liturgical place of confession in Reformed liturgy, see K. Deddens' "A Missing Link in Reformed Liturgy."

28 August 2001

pastoral counseling class

As some of you may know, I'm slowly working on a masters degree in theology, which I hope to complete in the next couple of years.

This fall I'm taking a class on pastoral counseling. The two texts for the course are A Clinical Handbook of Pastoral Counseling (Volume One) edited by R. Wicks, R. Parsons, and D. Capps (Paulist 1993) and God Beyond Gender by Gail Ramshaw (Fortress 1995).

The first one appears to be a truly helpful resource and I look forward to working through it. The second one is written by one of my colleagues at La Salle University and should make for interesting class discussion, if nothing else.

I'll keep you posted.

27 August 2001

fall term

Well, the fall semester began today.

I'm teaching three introductory philosophy classes at La Salle University. The students seem like a really nice bunch and fairly serious about doing well.

I also talked to Br. Chip in Campus Ministry about leading a Bible study again this year. Hopefully there will be some interest. If attendance at yesterday's Sunday liturgy is any indication, spiritual interest among the students this year is particularly high.

reconciliation and justification

I finished reading Reconciliation and Justification: The Sacrament and Its Theology by Kenan B. Osborne (Paulist 1990). Osborne is a Franciscan priest and always brings an interesting perspective to his writings, with an obvious sympathy for Protestant emphasis upon sola gratia and the centrality of faith in salvation, but also with a keen knowledge of the Roman Catholic tradition and teaching with an emphasis upon its diversity.

In this particular book he addresses the question of "sacramental reconciliation" - probably better known by many as "confession" or "penance" - with a particular focus on its relationship to the doctrine of justification. The doctrine of justification is important to him since he wonders how best to understand traditional Catholic teaching about "merit," "satisfaction," and so on, in light of the sheer unmerited gratuity of salvation in Christ. How ever they are to be understood, he says, they should never be presented in a way that undermines the nature of salvation as a total gift, received in faith.

Osborne places "reconciliation" in several contexts:

[1] the work of Jesus Christ in which sinners are reconciled to God and to one another, constituting Jesus as the "primordial sacrament" in light of which any other reconciliation, ritual or otherwise, must be placed;

[2] the Church as the locus of reconciliation in Christ as that is manifest in history, constituting the Church as the "basic sacrament" of God's salvation in the world;

[3] the reconciliation that is enacted among Christians as they forgive one another, bear one another's burdens, and minister in Jesus' name to each other, overcoming evil with good;

[4] the ritual means of reconciliation as that takes place in the general confession of sin in each liturgy, on special occasions where sacramental reconciliation is conducted in a general fashion, and in the sacrament of reconciliation, privately with a priest, as traditionally conceived.

Among other things, Osborne argues that Catholic doctrine does not hold that sacramental reconciliation privately with a priest is necessary for the forgiveness of serious sin. Rather, the rite is a celebration of God's forgiveness already held forth in Christ where it is witnessed to by a priest for the benefit of the penitent and of the Church. Moreover, he maintains the stipulation of naming one's sins to a priest in "number and kind" is a matter of church regulation, not divine law.

Many other features of Osborne's book could be noted, but my main interest in it was the way in which it presented a current Roman Catholic understanding of "confession" in the context of the history of doctrine and in dialogue with Protestant concerns. And he goes a long way towards meeting the traditional Protestant objections to the rite of confession within a Roman Catholic context.

We would also do well to remember that private confession to minister of the Gospel is not foreign to either the Lutheran or Reformed traditions (see Luther's Small Catechism or Calvin's Institutes 3.4.12-14). The proclamation of the Gospel through the ministry of absolution and reconciliation in the care of troubled souls is still central to the Church's ministry, whatever criticisms of the Roman Catholic practice we may still retain.

24 August 2001

city tavern

Restaurant Review: As part of freshman orientation, we took a bunch of kids to the City Tavern and on a "ghost tour" of Old City and Society Hill. So a few words about the Tavern.

In 1774 John Quincy Adams said the City Tavern was "the most genteel tavern in America." And it was at the Tavern that the US Constitution was really written over tankards of beer around its wooden tables. Today the City Tavern recreates the colonial atmosphere with a menu of items that would be easily recognized by our American forefathers, a wait-staff in 18th century costume, and original and reproduction furnishings.

Our meal included iced tea, turkey pot pie, Jefferson's biscuits, and noodles. The pot pie was the best, served piping hot - a creamy broth full of large pieces of turkey, vegetables, and a light, buttery puff-pastry crust. Jefferson's biscuits - a quick bread with molasses, ginger, and pecans - received mixed reviews, though personally I thought they were rather good. The noodles, however, were room temperature and a bit sticky, though perhaps that was the colonial custom. The rest of menu includes various authentic dishes from venison to relishes to a good selection of ales.

While colonial cuisine is perhaps not to everyone's liking, as part of understanding colonial Philadelphia, the City Tavern is an enjoyable dining experience.

Rating: ××× (out of ××××)
Location: Corner of 2nd and Walnut (across from Bookbinders)
Price: Moderate-Expensive
Serving: Lunch and Dinner; banquets; receptions
Other: Outdoor seating; costumed staff; haunted bar-room

22 August 2001

confessing church

Noteworthy news.

The number of mainline Presbyterians (PCUSA) committed to the Confessing Church Movement within the denomination as of today (at least 261,716) now exceeds the total number of members that belong to the more conservative PCA (at least 260,885).

The Confessing Church Movement (PCUSA) began this past March 29th and has grown at a tremendous pace since that time, especially after this summer's 2001 General Assembly. The Movement stands for biblical authority, the exclusive claims of Christ, and traditional Christian ethics, especially in the area of sexuality.

Interestingly, the average size of a congregation in the Confessing Church Movement (PCUSA) is currently 333 members. The average size of a PCA congregation is only 204.

I'm not sure how significant such statistics are in the overall scheme of things, but they struck me as underlining the importance of continuing to pray for our many brothers and sisters in the mainline denominations, especially as they work for the reformation of their respective communions. After all, St. Paul directed his efforts "first to the Jews, then also to the Greeks" - first to his fellow covenant members, no matter how far astray, and then also to those outside that community.

Should our priorities be any different?


Sorry I haven't been blogging much recently.

I've been busy with a week-long orientation program for freshman at the university where I teach. It's been running from 8am until 10pm or so. Thus, I haven't had much time for e-mail.

Fortunately, however, it ended this evening.

17 August 2001

the lectionary

Perhaps I should say a word about the Lectionary for those who are not familiar with it.

In some respects the Lectionary represents one of the greatest ecumenical achievements of the 20th century, affecting millions of Christians each week as they hear a common Word proclaimed and expounded. In the United States, Roman Catholics, many Lutherans, most Presbyterians, most Methodists, Disciples of Christ, Episcopalians, and the United Church of Christ celebrate the same (or at least very similar) selections from Word of God in their various assemblies. No other ecumenical effort has produced such a real, living result. (For a brief, helpful history of the Lectionary consult Frederick R. McManus, "Pastoral Ecumenism: The Common Lectionary" in Eucharist: Toward the Third Millennium, Liturgy Training Publications 1997:103-188.)

The Lectionary was actually the fruit of liturgical renewal within the Roman Catholic Church leading up to and after the Second Vatican Council. There was a time in Roman Catholic churches when the congregation would never had heard the Old Testament in English, nor the New outside of a translation of the weekly Gospel reading.

But the Second Vatican Council asserted, counter to what had been practiced for centuries, that "It is essential to promote that warm and living love for Scripture to which the venerable tradition of both eastern and western rites gives testimony" (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 24). In particular, the Council went on to say, "The treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that a richer share in God's word may be provided for the faithful. In this way a more representative portion of holy scripture will be read to the people in a prescribed period of years" (51).

And thus the Lectionary was born, beginning with the 1969 Roman order of readings. This order was adopted quickly by other churches beginning with the Presbyterians (PCUSA) in 1970 and very widely by 1974. In 1983 this became officially codified as the Common Lectionary and in 1992 as the Revised Common Lectionary.

The Lectionary works like this. It is designed as a three year cylce of readings, providing four readings for each Sunday - one each from the Old Testament, a Psalm, a New Testament Epistle, and a Gospel.

The readings strike a balance between lectio continua (reading straight through biblical books consecutively, picking up each week where one had left off the week before) and lectio selecta (picking and choosing particular passages usually linked to events on the church calendar, e.g., Easter or Pentecost). The key to the balance is the division of the church calendar between festal cylces and ordinary time. The two major cylces are Advent-Christmas-Epiphany and Lent-Easter-Pentecost. Of the 52 Sundays in any given year, only 14 fall within these cylces. The other 38 Sundays fall within "ordinary time." The Lectionary is balanced so that most of the 14 Sundays around major feasts follow a pattern of lectio selecta, while the rest of the Sundays (making up nearly three-quarters of the year) follow a pattern of lectio continua.

Specifically, the Lectionary is divided into Year A, Year B, and Year C. Year A focuses on Matthew, Year B on Mark, and Year C on Luke. John is read in part during Year B (since Mark is short) and each year during Lent and Easter.

The New Testament Epistles are distributed over the three years, more or less in a lectio continua fashion. In Year A the Lectionary contains Romans, 1 Corinthians, 1 Peter, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians. In Year B it's 1 John, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, James, and Hebrews. In Year C it's Revelation, Galatians, Colossians, Philemon, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and 2 Thessalonians. Parts of Titus are read Christmas eve and day. Selections from Acts are prescribed for Easter season in various years. Some of 2 Peter is read on the Transfiguration and during Advent, Year B. Jude, 2 John, and 3 John are omitted.

The Old Testament readings are chosen selectively to link with the Gospel or sometimes the Epistle or both. Nonetheless, a large portion of the OT will end up being read in the course of the three year cycle. Only 1 Chronicles, Ezra, Obadiah, and Nahum are entirely left out.

Since there are 150 Psalms and 156 Sundays in the cycle, the Psalms are distributed over the three years, linked to the other readings, with some of the larger ones being broken up into smaller portions.

If one were to use the lectionary over a twelve year period, focusing the homilies during each three year cycle upon a different one of the readings, it would be possible in that time to preach through all four Gospels, almost all the NT Epistles, each Psalm, and about 60% of the OT. Moreover, since the readings are generally related in some fashion, it would also be possible to show the inter-connections between various parts of Scripture.

text week

The Text This Week is a helpful biblical resource, keyed to the Revised Common Lectionary, but also with a general Scripture index for study of various passages.

Resources include links to an array of commentaries (Geneva Notes, Matthew Henry, Wesley's Notes, Jamieson, Faussett and Brown, etc.), a listing of available patristic references, texts from several versions and translations, as well as various contemporary sermons, journal articles, and the like from a range of perspectives.

Additional features include a listing of films that are relevant to specific texts, the major versions of the Lectionary, bulletin art keyed to texts, appropriate prayers and songs, children's resources, and links to discussion forums.

16 August 2001

why food?

Why talk about food on a blog called "sacra doctrina"? Good question.

Alexander Schmemann probably gives as helpful an answer as any in his For the Life of the World (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press 1982). He writes:
...the Bible...begins with man as a hungry being, with the man who is that which he eats...nowhere in the Bible do we find the dichotomies which for us are the self-evident framework of all approaches to religion [e.g., "spiritual" vs. "material," "sacred" vs. "profane"]. In the Bible the man that eats, the world of which he must partake in order to live, is given to him by God, and it is given as communion with God. The world as man's food is not something "material" and limited to material functions, thus different from, and opposed to, the specifically "spiritual" functions by which man is related to God. All that exists is God's gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man's life communion with God. It is divine love made food, made life for man. God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this mean that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation: "O taste and see that the Lord is good."

Man is a hungry being. But he is hungry for God. Behind all hunger of our life is God. All desire is finally a desire for Him...the unique position of man is that he alone is to bless God for the food and the life he receives from him. He alone is to respond to God's blessing with his blessing...the only natural (and not "supernatural") reaction of man, to whom God gave the blessed and sanctified world, is to bless God in return, to thank Him, to see the world as God sees it and - in this act of gratitude and adoration - to know, name, and possess the world...The first, the basic definition of man is that he is the priest. He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God--and by filling the world with this eucharist, he transforms his life, the one that he receives from the world, into life in God, into communion with Him. The world was created as the "matter," the material of one all-embracing eucharist, and man was created as the priest of this cosmic sacrament. (14-15)
This is why, though animals all eat, only human beings have "cuisine." The sacred, eucharistic, and communal nature of food is inscribed into our very being, driving us to prepare food as if it were an act of worship - with the care, dignity, and art that is ordinarily reserved for sacred vestments, sacramental vessels, and the bindings of holy books. Every meal is a ritual, implicitly expressing the nature of our priestly service to the creator, either faithful or not.

And is it any wonder that in a world of Happy Meals and cheese curls that our priestly service has devolved into the Willow Creeks and Jesus jingles that fill our Sunday mornings?

So, my occasional restaurant reviews will, I hope, serve to enhance our experience of food, raise our consciousness of God's good world, and thereby elicit the proper response of thanksgiving in us as his priestly people.

Also, for an extended meditation on the role of food in human culture, I recommend Leon Kass, The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature (Free Press 1994).


Restaurant Review: From time to time I plan on giving short reviews of Philadelphia restaurants in which my wife and I have dined. Philly has an awesome restaurant scene with lots of variety and some really top chefs.

Last night we ate at "Figs" in the Art Museum area, a small Mediterranean cafe with sidewalk seating, decorated in warm tones and with hand-painted pottery.

The menu offers a wide range of choices from throughout the Mediterranean from Greek salad to North African lamb dishes, with a strong emphasis on seafood. Dinners are served with a choice of breads - rosemary foccacia or olive loaf - accompanied by a bean spread delicately laced with garlic and roasted pepper. My wife enjoyed a Tunisian pasta dish: linguine with calamata olives, shrimp, vegetables, in a very aromatic pesto ($14 with shrimp, $10 without). It was slightly over-salty, but with a great blend and balance of flavors. I chose several selections from their range of deliciously prepared shish kebabs ($2.75 per skewer). The lamb kebab was marinated in cilantro and citrus, the beef in parsley and cinnamon, and the chicken in rosemary and curry. All were plated together with a generous dollop of chilled minted yogurt. We shared a house salad of raddichio and arugula dressed with a creamy vinaigrette, diced onion, and crumbled gorgonzola ($4).

Rating: ×××½ (out of ××××)
Location: Corner of 25th and Perot (2 blks above Fairmount)
Price: Moderate.
Serving: Dinner; Sunday brunch
Other: Outdoor seating; BYOB

15 August 2001

family ecumenism

My wife's family is a veritable ecumenical conference.

Her oldest brother, Tom, is an Anglican priest (ACC), now working in North Carolina (ECUSA), whose wife is a professor of Biblical Studies at Barton College.

Jerry is a Lutheran (ELCA) pastor (see the previous post).

Robin and her husband are former missionaries in Latin American (with MAF) and now work for a non-denominational charismatic church in York, Pennsylvania.

Steve and his wife are busily involved with a congregation in Fredericksburg, Virginia that's part of the United Methodist church (UMC).

My wife and I are Presbyterians (PCA) though on the decidedly liturgical and sacramental end of spectrum within our denomination.

Her parents are now in a PCA congregation in Florida, but before that had been Southern Baptists (SBC) for many years.

It sure makes family reunions interesting.

relatives on the move

The big news over the weekend for us (and the reason for our houseguests) is that my brother-in-law Jerry has been called to be the new pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church (ELCA) in nearby Souderton, PA. He'll be moving from Michigan in early September with his wife Candace and their two boys.


You know those amusing photo or printed "bloopers" that people send in to Leno or Letterman?

Over the weekend we all took the kids to eat at a Friendly's across the street from a Hooters sports bar. As the evening wore on and the sun went down, the big HOOTERS sign lit up, only to reveal that the lights behind the "OTE" were out, leaving behind...well you figure it out.

family fun

We're back from visiting family in Virginia and, before that, playing hosts to visiting family here in Philadelphia.

Last week we took two of our nephews to the Franklin Institute, a science museum here in Philly, and fun was had by all. The museum is older and a bit run-down here and there, but between the beautiful 1930's Beaux Arts façade and its various features and exhibits, the Franklin Institute is still a great museum: Sky-bike, Magic: the Science of Illusion exhibit, walk-through heart, 3-D theater, planetarium, IMAX, electric show, and so on.

While in Virginia we went in-line skating, the first time for me. I hadn't been on any kind of skates since 5th grade (yes, that was more than 20 years ago...don't remind me) and back then I spent most of the time sprawled on the floor. Somehow I've managed to become more coordinated with age - I even went skateboarding over the weekend. Perhaps the X Games have inspired me.

07 August 2001

x games!

The 2001 Summer X Games are coming to Philadelphia, August 17-23!! Awesome.

Skateboarding, motoX, street luge, wake boarding, bike stunt, aggressive in-line, and all the rest!

If you are in the area, all the events are free and open to the public, with several preliminary events being held starting this Saturday, August 11. The main events will be held later at the First Union Center in South Philly. A full schedule is available on the X Game website.

...unfortunately, I have to help with an all-day orientation program at the university August 18-23 and so will miss most of the games.


06 August 2001

death in the burbs

Forget the cookie-cutter houses and ugly strip-malls. There's another reason to leave suburbia and move into the city.

The suburbs can kill you.

That's right. According to the August 2001 issue of Philadelphia Magazine you are more that twice as likely to be killed in an automobile accident in one of Philly's four suburban counties than to die as a victim of violent crime within the city limits. And if you live in rapidly-growing Chester County, your chances of death by auto are almost four times that of a Philadelphian's dying at the hand of a violent criminal.

So next time you plan a move and are thinking about safe streets for your family, think carefully.

adjunct faculty

As many of you are probably aware, there's an on-going situation and debate in higher education regarding the extensive use of adjunct faculty in colleges and universities.

Some of the major difficulties often cited by adjuncts are the poor wages, lack of job security, few job benefits, the stress of working multiple jobs and traveling from school to school. Others have noted how adjuncts end up sacrificing their professional development and how the quality of education can suffer since adjuncts often cannot spend as much individual time with students, have a high rate of turn-over which affects institutional continuity, and are more apt to give easily graded exams than complex writing assignments.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has been covering the issue of adjuncts for some time, tracking developments (such as city-wide adjunct unions) and statistics. This month in their "Colloquy Live" feature they are providing interaction with Jill Carroll, author of the book How to Survive as an Adjunct Lecturer: An Entrepreneurial Strategy Manual.

Her book argues that "if adjuncts start acting like businesspeople selling a product, and plan accordingly, they can find good work, make good money, become respected college teachers, and enjoy more variety and flexibility than people in full-time faculty positions."

An interesting conversation for many, I'm sure.

brief break

With relatives visiting this week and some traveling we need to do, I won't be posting much for the next week or so.

03 August 2001

mary, mother of our lord

Hmm. I read - or perhaps I should say, attentively skimmed - Scott Hahn's new book on Mary last night, Hail Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God (Doubleday 2001).

There's not a whole lot new in the book for those familiar with Catholic teaching regarding the Virgin, patristic and medieval interpretation of Scripture, and so on. The funny thing is that, exegetically speaking, I can accept almost everything Hahn says. I have no problem with seeing Mary typologically described as the "ark of the covenant," "woman clothed with the sun," "new Eve," "virgin daughter Zion," "queen mother," and so on. The tricky bit comes with the leap from these premises to conclusions like the immaculate conception or bodily assumption.

At one point Hahn makes the following parallel: "Adam was a type of Jesus Christ; Eve was a type of the Blessed Virgin Mary." This is, I think, an important example of where his reasoning (and, admittedly, that of much of the church catholic) goes awry. Here's how:

In the case of Adam we have a figure who typologically points forward to Christ. This type, however, is thematically repeated and varied throughout the Old Covenant in many, many "Adam-figures" - Noah, Abraham, Israel, Solomon, Ezekiel, Daniel's "Son of Man," and so on. Eventually, all of these figures and all that they add to the typological pattern find a definitive end-point and anti-type in the person and work of Jesus as the Last Adam.

Now, consider the parallel with Mary. We begin with Eve, a typological figure. This type also is thematically repeated and varied throughout the Old Covenant in many, many "Eve-figures" - Sarah, Deborah, Jael, Zion, Jerusalem, Esther, and so on. Eventually, all of these figures and all that they add to the typological pattern find a definitive end-point and anti-type in...in what? Or whom? Mary? Or is Mary simply the next to last and greatest link the chain? Does she stand alone as the fulfillment, as Jesus does? Or is it not the case that Mary is gathered up with all of the other types in order to point to and focus our attention upon the true anti-type: the Church of Jesus Christ, the virgin Bride adorned for her Husband, the Mother of all believers.

Of course, Mary does stand in a unique relationship to our Lord as his earthly mother. And, accordingly, all generations must proclaim her blessed, honor her, and look to her example of faith as a type of the faith of the church.

But do we truly honor this greatest of women when we go beyond the Word of God, perpetuating extra-biblical traditions and doctrines about her? After all, Mary herself was brought into being by the divine Word, treasured the written Word in her heart, and bore the Word made flesh into the world. If we follow her example, we will do the same.

moral theology & birth technology

According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, it is the job of church synods and councils to "determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience" (31.1). It is, after all, among the duties of our ecclesiastical superiors "to instruct, counsel, and admonish" those of us who fall under their care (Larger Catechism 129).

This is why it is so distressing that my own denomination, the PCA, has failed to provide us any instruction and counsel with regard to birth technologies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), despite the fact that such procedures have been around for over 20 years. I know there are many infertile couples in our churches struggling with this very issue, looking for answers, hoping that their pastors will give them biblically and medically informed counsel. And I'm sure their pastors try to do their best.

Nevertheless, the issues here are complex, in need of careful weighing and consideration by a multiplicity of wise minds, particularly those Christians who are specially trained in the fields of medicine, theology, counseling, and ethics.

I am grateful that the issue has finally been raised publicly in a "discussion" that is taking place through the forum of the PCA News. I hope our presbyteries are paying attention.

But I also question the wisdom of the manner in which the issue has been raised: in a public forum, with sometimes acerbic exchanges, with the appearance that every individual's opinion is as valuable as every other's, and with the potential to hurt those who may already be going through a lot of personal anguish. Is this really appropriate? Why haven't we done better?

bucer's baptismal theology

One of the interesting things about Martin Bucer is to trace the development of his baptismal theology over the course of his teaching as a Reformer.

In the earliest part of his career, during the 1520's, he directed his teaching against what he perceived to be Roman Catholic extremes regarding the ex opera operato functioning of the sacraments, particularly as that was explained by nominalist theologians. Thus he makes a sharp distinction between the "baptism of water [by which] we are received into the outward church of God" and the "baptism of the Spirit" which the elect alone experience (cf. particularly his commentary on John). Thus, with regard to infant baptism, Bucer asserts, "if they were chosen of God before the foundations of the world were laid, the Lord will grant them the Spirit and faith when he sees fit, but our washing them with water will not for one moment grant them faith or God's Spirit" (from his 1527 Ephesians commentary).

By the mid-1520's, however, the Reformer Carlstadt had rejected the practice of infant baptism, paving the way for the radical reformation of the Anabaptists. At first Bucer was not particularly concerned since, after all, "baptism is just an external" (as he once told Luther). Nevertheless, over time Bucer grew less and less sanguine about the Anabaptists and, in his reply to them, found himself returning to an emphasis on the efficacy of baptism and the true instrumentality of the rite by the power of the Spirit.

Thus, by the late 1530's, the rupture between "inward" and "outward" was overcome in the context of a rapidly developing Reformed sacramental and covenantal theology. This same trend and trajectory can be found throughout this period in the thought of many other Reformed Protestants: Calvin, Capito, Oecolampadius, Farel, even Zwingli (see Hughes Oliphant Old's The Shaping of the Reformed Baptismal Rite in the Sixteenth Century, Eerdmans 1992, especially Chapters 4-6).

And by the time of his 1536 commentary on Romans, Bucer is able to state, "Christ commended baptism as the means whereby participation in himself and heavenly regeneration should be imparted and presented through the church's ministry." And in his 1548 Brief Summary of the Christian Doctrine and Religion Taught as Strasbourg he writes,
We confess and teach that holy baptism, when given and received according to the Lord's command, is in the case of adults and little children truly a baptism of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, whereby those who are baptized have all their sins washed away, are buried into the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, are incorporated into him and put him on for the death of their sins, for a new and godly life and the blessed resurrection, and through him become children and heirs of God.
A similar progression can be found in Calvin's writings proceeding from the 1536 Institutes and his early commentaries, to the later Catechism of 1545, the 1556 reply to Westphal, and the final additions to the 1559 edition of the Institutes.

A lot of historical research still needs to be done on this and similar topics, research that would no doubt benefit those churches which trace their heritage to these Reformers.

02 August 2001


Posture in worship is important. If we don't permit our teens to slouch, shuffle, and stare at the ground when we are addressing them, how can we say posture is unimportant when we come into the presence of our heavenly Father to be addressed by him?

My wife and I have been using N.T. Wright's The Lord and His Prayer (Eerdmans 1996) in our family devotions recently. He has this to say regarding the second petition:
Thy Kingdom Come on earth as it is in heaven; and we who pray that prayer are ourselves bits of earth, lumps of clay. If we really want God's kingdom to come on earth, we should of course expect that the earth in question will include this earth, this clay, this present physical body. That means, of course, holiness. It means, of course, sacraments. And, held between holiness and sacraments, it means the physical act of prayer. (33)
Wright's remark is in keeping with the best in Reformed liturgics as well. As the 1559 Book of Discipline of the French Reformed Church states,
That great irreverence which is found in various persons, who at public and private prayers neither uncover their heads nor bow their knees, shall be reformed; for it is a matter repugnant unto piety, and gives suspicion of pride, and scandalizes those that fear God. (10.1)
Let us, then, take to our knees, as individuals and as the gathered church of God.


You've got to admire Martin Bucer.

Not only was he a highly trained Dominican priest who came to espouse the cause of the Reformation, but he also did so with a faithfulness to Scripture, veneration for the Fathers, sensitivity regarding tradition, and spirit of irenic ecumenism towards his Lutheran and Catholic interlocutors. And he exercised a profound effect upon the shape of the Reformation in ways as diverse as his early influence over John Calvin, his later interaction with Thomas Cranmer, his colloquies with the Catholics, and his indirect shaping of the English Psalter.

I bring this up since I've been re-reading essays from Martin Bucer: Reforming Church and Community edited by David F. Wright (Cambridge 1994), a helpful window into the life and work of this often neglected Reformation figure. If you're unfamiliar with Bucer, I'd recommend these essays as a good place to begin.