30 January 2005

epiphany 4

Living God,
in Christ you make all things new.
Transform the poverty of our nature
by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
show forth your glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

29 January 2005

request from nagoya

Michael Oh, president of Christ Bible Seminary in Nagoya, Japan informs me of this additional need:

There is a young man from Myanmar (one of the areas of the world affected by the tsunami). He has a call to the ministry and wants to study theology in Nagoya as his sister lives in Tokyo where she is married to a Japanese Christian.

In order for him to study in Nagoya, however, the seminary will need to raise $800 per month for him for housing and food. $1200 per month would be necessary if he were to bring his wife and 3 year-old daughter with him during his three years of study in Japan.

Myanmar is a spiritually needy part of the world and this young man's future ministry could have an important impact. If you are interested in supporting his studies you can contact Michael Oh directly at: president@cbijapan.org.

28 January 2005

thomas taylor on titus 3

I've been preoccupied with the beginning of the semester, so haven't had much time to post anything terribly substantive here lately.

I am, however, leading a Bible study and we're currently looking at the book of Titus. This, of course, means that sooner or later we'll get to Titus 3:5, which speaks of "the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit." The tradition of Reformed exegesis has widely taken "the washing of regeneration" as a reference to the sacrament of baptism, often seeing "renewal in the Holy Spirit" as the inward reality that the outward washing seals.

There are, naturally, other various ways of understanding the passage, some of which make no reference to baptism at all or which relate the terms differently (e.g., taking the "washing" to be one of "regeneration and renewal" both "in the Holy Spirit").

Nevertheless, I've been poking around some older texts I have on hand, particularly various Reformed and Puritan commentaries. Among those is the commentary on Titus written by Thomas Taylor (1579-1632).

Though opposed to Puritanism in his youth, as a young adult Taylor became a strong advocate of the Puritan cause, eventually emerging as a prominent Puritan divine. His works were later highly praised by Westminster Divines such as Edmund Calamy and Joseph Caryl and many were translated into Dutch. During the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, Taylor was the well-known preacher at St. Paul’s Cross, London.

His comments on Titus 3:5 are fairly typical of Reformed and Puritan exegesis and reflection on the sacrament of baptism.

Here is an extended quotation from his commentary on Titus 3:5.

"But by the washing of regeneration."

We now come to the instrumental causes or means by which we are set into this new condition. These are two, outward and inward. By the outward means we are brought into the visible church, i.e., the washing of regeneration or baptism; by the second, or inward means, the renewing of the Holy Ghost, we are truly set into the body of Christ; for the Holy Ghost pours out plentifully upon our consciences pure waters to cleanse them both from the guilt and filthiness of sin...

Let us consider the persons to whom baptism is the washing of the new birth, and in so doing we may more clearly reveal how it is the washing of regeneration. We must not conceive it to be such to every baptized party, but only in those who have the gift of faith to receive the grace offered...

God in baptism not only offers and signifies, but truly exhibits grace, by which our sins are washed and we are renewed by the Holy Ghost.

Therefore it is called the washing of the new birth, both because it seals up the washing away of sins in the blood of Christ (Acts 2:38), and also because it betokens another washing by the Spirit of Christ; and this is the sanctification of a sinner, imperfect in this life but to be perfected in the life to come.

But the doctrine will remain obscure if we do not open two points before we come to make use of it. Let us see [a] how and [b] to whom baptism is the laver of regeneration.

[a] Let us consider the first both negatively and positively.

[i] Negatively, first, this effect is not ascribed to the work wrought, as the Popish doctrine teaches. Second, neither is it by any extraordinary elevation of the action, by which it is made to confer renovation; for this would be to make baptism a kind of miracle, and also to encroach upon the clause following, in which the work of renewing is ascribed to the Holy Ghost. Third, the waters of baptism have in themselves no inherent power or force to wash the conscience, as to wash the filth of the body. Fourth, nor does it have this power because grace is tied to it by any promise or means so that God cannot distribute it without this action; for grace is not tied to the word, and much less to the sacrament; nor is every baptized party truly regenerate, as by this theory they must needs be.

[ii] How then is baptism the laver of regeneration? In four ways.

First, it is an institution of God, signifying the good pleasure of God for the pardoning of sin, and accepting men to grace in Christ; as the word signifies this, so also does the sacrament, which is a visible word. And thus it is truly said of the word, and sacraments too, that they save and sanctify, because they signify the good pleasure of God in saving and sanctifying us. We say the king's writ of pardon saves a man; the document itself does not do it, but because it is signed by the kingd, it is the ordinary instrument to manifest the merciful mind of the king in pardoning such a malefactor.

Second, it is a seal or pledge of our sanctification and salvation, as certainly assuring these to the soul of a believer as he is or can be assured of the other. As a man having a bond for a thousand pounds sealed unto him may truly say, "Here is my thousand pounds," that is, a security confirming it unto me as surely as if I had it in my hands; even so may the believing party say of his baptism, "Here is my regeneration; here is my salvation."

Third, it is a means to excite and provoke the faith of the receiver to lay hold upon the grace of the sacrament, and apply it to these purposes, in which regard it may be said to renew in the same way in which faith is said to justify; that is, only as a means or hand to lay hold of Christ our righteousness. So baptism is a means helping forward our renewing by the true understanding and serious meditation of it.

Fourth, in its right use, it gives and exhibits Christ and all his merits to the fit receiver. Then God's grace puts itself forth, and after a sort conveys itself, by this instrument, into the heart of the worthy receiver. And thus principally it is the laver of regeneration, because in it and by it (as a means) the Holy Ghost freely works his grace in those in whom he delights; and thus we are fitly led on to the second point propounded concerning these persons.

[b] Let us consider the persons to whom baptism is the washing of the new birth, and in so doing we may more clearly reveal how it is the washing of regeneration. We must no conceive it to be such to every baptized party, but only those who have the gift of faith to receive the grace offered. "As many as received him, to them he gave the power to become the sons of God" (John 1:12); "Christ loved his church and gave himself for it, that he might cleanse it by the washing of water through the word" (Eph. 5:26, 27), namely, the word believed; for how else can water have power to wash the soul?

It is, then, not the washing of the body with the water, but the receiving and applying the promise by faith, which brings grace into the soul; and without grace in the soul, both word and sacraments are unprofitable. This Christ required in baptism: "he who believes and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). Thus it is necessarily concluded that ungodly and unbelieving ones receive nothing in baptism but the element, and that as a naked sign, Judas ate the Passover, but remained a devil; Simon the sorcerer was baptized, but remained chained in the bond of iniquity and the gall of bitterness. Ananias and Sapphira were no doubt baptized among other Christians, but were not washed from their hypocrisy. Is it a marvel if unto ungodly ones the sacrament is as an empty box, or a dead letter without spirit? For nothing is promised them in the word, as all the promises are conditioned upon faith and repentance, which they lack; and can we marvel if the seal does no good to him who has no right in the covenant?

But though faith is required in men of years, what of children? In them we cannot expect faith, and therefore are we to conclude that in them faith is not requisite; or (by the former answer) that their baptism is unprofitable?

The well is deep, and we lack means to draw certain answers; but we will assay to deliver that which may be extracted out of the Scriptures and expositors, as most probable in the unfolding of this difficulty.

Let us first distinguish among infants. Some are elected and some do not belong unto the election of grace. The latter receive only the element, and are not inwardly washed; the former receive the inward grace in the right use of the sacrament. Hereby we do not tie the majesty of God to any time or means, for his Spirit blows when and where he lists; on some babes before baptism, yea from the womb; on some babes after. But because the Lord delights to present himself gracious in his own ordinance, he ordinarily accompanies it with his grace; here, according to his promise, we may expect it, and here we may and ought to send out the prayer of faith for it.

But it is objected, the child itself lacks faith.

[1] It indeed lacks actual faith [i.e., faith actualized in outward acts, such as repenting or believing upon the word of the Gospel], which presupposes hearing and understanding. Nor could it be that if they had actual faith at that time, they could ever utterly lose it, but in point of fact it must be developed in them by instruction.

[2] Yet they do not lack all faith. Christ himself reckons them among believers (Matt 18:6); and in this respect circumcision, which was administered to infants, was called a seal of faith.

[3] Some divines think this faith of the child is not other than the faith of its parents; but the truth is that the faith of the parents is so far theirs that it gives them right to the covenant. The covenant is made to Abraham and to his seed, and to the faithful and their seed; and the believing parent also lays hold on the covenant for himself and his seed, thereby entitling the child to the right of the covenant as well as himself; even as in temporal things he can purchase land for himself and his heirs. This truth confirms that apostle's saying, "If the root be holy, so are the branches"; and if the parent believes, the children are holy.

[4] But this may seem not to be a proper faith, first because some children saved are not of believing parents, and second because "the just shall live by his own faith" (Hab. 2:4); and therefore it is very probable that elected infants have a spirit of faith, that is, the Spirit of God working inwardly and secretly, but diversely in infants dying before the age of discretion and in those which survive. To the former God gives his Spirit which works either faith or something proportionate for their justification and salvation; and in the latter he works the seed or inclination of faith, which in due time shall bear fruit unto eternal life. And in this regard the Scriptures show how, after a marvelous and secret manner, the Lord can and has effectually wrought in infants, even in the womb, as Jacob, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and others.

Nor does it hinder that infants have no sense of any such thing, no more than it proves them not to live, because they do not know that they do so. But though we may not understand the manner of this secret working in infants, we know that Adam's corruption is not more effectual to pollute the infants of believing parents than Christ's blood and innocence is to sanctify them; and being so, his wisdom does not lack means to apply it unto them, even in their infancy, yea in the womb, to make it their own, although we cannot reach unto them. So much for the faith of infants.

Several aspects of Taylor's account are apparent and fit in with wider trajectories within Reformed dogmatics and exegesis. First, baptism is directed towards regeneration as one of its primary ends.

Second, "renegeration" here is understood, I think, in the broader sense as a process of renewal involving mortification of sin and newness of life. As such, it is an effect of faith, rather than a logical precondition of faith.

Third, baptism is understood as a "means" or "instrument," analogous to faith, which, when received in faith, conveys God's promise and grace. Baptism and faith are not in any competition with one another, but baptism is a place in which faith lays hold of the promises of God unto personal renewal in the Holy Spirit.

Finally, with regard to infant baptism, Taylor limits the effect of baptism unto renewal to elect infants unto whom the Spirit grants the "seed or inclination of faith," which in due time will bear the fruits of renewal as faith becomes actualized, presumably in the Spirit's effectual call through the ministry of the Word. For those infants who die before they can respond to the ministry of the Gospel in the Word, the Spirit works whatever is necessary for their salvation.

26 January 2005


My old website on the La Salle server will now redirect you to joelgarver.com if you go the main page. All the other pages remain the same.

I haven't had a chance to transfer over any essays and much other information, so don't go trying to change your bookmarks and links and such just yet. And I'll leave up the old pages for awhile. Once I start transferring things over, I'll turn them the old pages into redirects to the new pages as those go up. Eventually the old site will come down.

23 January 2005

christ bible seminary, japan

As some of you may remember, during my trip to Japan this past summer, I spoke to a group of people working to establish an evangelical Reformed seminary in Nagoya. The president of the seminary is Michael Oh who, along with his wife Pearl, were friends of mine from our college days at University of Pennsylvania.

I mention this because the Ohs presently need to widen their support-base due, in part, to the dollar's fall in value in relation to the yen, as well as some rising costs. This is a critical time in the life of the nascent seminary since a building project is underway and classes are slated to begin in April. Now would not be an opportune time for the Ohs to return to the States in order to raise more support.

I am hoping that some of you will be able to help out the Ohs and the Nagoya seminary project. Certainly your prayers are needed and appreciated. You can consult the Friends of Nagoya Theological Seminary website in order to find more information to guide and shape your prayers.

But it would also be great if some of you were able to join the ongoing team of supporters for the mission work or, if that is not possible, to at least make a one time gift. Donations can be easily made by credit card through their website's "How to Give" page. If you would like a mail-in form in order to use a check, you can download that form here (right click and save).

The Ohs are sponsored by Mission to the World (the missions agency of the Presbyterian Church in America) and the seminary is working in partnership with various other seminaries, including Westminster, Covenant, RTS, and the Asia Center for Theological Studies in South Korea.

epiphany 3

Almighty God,
by grace alone you call us
and accept us in your service.
Strengthen us by your Spirit,
and make us worthy of your call;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

22 January 2005


It hasn't started snowing yet, but 10-16 inches are forecast for the area, starting later this morning and continuing into Sunday, with a low of 8 degrees.

For Philly, that's quite a bit of snow and pretty cold, though in central New York state, where I went to grad school, it would barely slow people down. Laurel stopped into a store yesterday to pick up an item and it was swarming with shoppers stocking up on essentials. She also stopped by the wine and liquor store, so we're well stocked on all fronts.

Cold weather is always good for sound sleeping and Claire slept for 12 solid hours last night. When she woke up this morning she called, as usual, "Daddy! I'm awake!" So I went to her room to hear her announce, "There was a monster in my room last night."

Monsters aren't a problem. She seems to rather like monsters and thinks of them as mostly friendly. She actually seems rather fond of the "sink monster" that lives under the kitchen sink and eats our garbage, growling and grinding away.

Since I didn't see any evident monster upon entering Claire's bedroom, I asked her, "Oh? I don't see any monsters. Where did it go?"

She pointed to her shelves and informed me, "It slipped into the dark behind my bookcase."

So here we remain, soon to be snowed in, snuggling under blankets, with friendly monsters lurking all around.

21 January 2005

first week done

The first week of classes has come and gone, though it's going to be a busy semester teaching five sections (though only three courses), with a total of about 110 students. The classes seem like a good bunch so far and, since the one section is an upper level course, there are a number of students there who I've taught before.

Hmm...let's see. Two sections have three essays, two sections have three essays plus two short papers, and one sections has two essays, a field report, and a presentation.

That adds up to around 440 papers to grade over the next 14 weeks, adding up to perhaps around 2000 pages--slightly more than four papers per day on average, assuming about 100 days left to the semester. And that doesn't include weekly homeworks and quizzes in some of the sections.

It seems like I've got my work cut out for me.

Despite all the work, I do enjoy teaching and hope the classes will prove helpful to the students, both by improving their academic skills and by getting them to think through some issues that are important for them as human beings, living in community, and in relation to God.

19 January 2005

water rings

We have an older dining room table that was inherited from my grandmother. It's a lovely table, but seems exceeding prone to white marks from water and/or heat.

When we took the table cloth off recently, the marks were getting so bad I had to do something about it. So I looked around online and saw the suggestion to buff the marks with a damp cloth using white toothpaste (not gel), like Tom's of Maine.

Well, by George, it works!

18 January 2005

first day of classes

It's almost midnight and I've got to teach at 8am tomorrow. The new term began today and the first class meeting seemed to go reasonably well.

As some of you know, I've made various class materials available to students on the web (syllabus, schedules, paper topics, etc.). And for some time I've wanted to re-design my website from scratch.

What I been using up to now now is a much reworked, patched, and badly organized version of what went up online when I first put up a website about 8 years ago. And it's not very attractive either.

Moreover, there are all kinds of good reasons to move my writings, course materials, and so on, off the university server--reasons ranging from sometimes spotty hosting to issues of intellectual property. Thus, I recently aquired a domain name and hosting space of my own.

Since, however, I didn't have time to get to designing or moving anything over until this morning, in addition to the first day of teaching, I've been hastily throwing a website together.

I was trying to go for a look that is a bit more, well, frankly, stodgy--something that seems a bit more professional and academic. I'm far from done and my writings and a number of other resources will remain put on the old website for awhile, even as they reappear on a new server and with a new look.

Nevertheless, enough of the new website is in place now to announce: joelgarver.com.

I'll be tweaking things for a while to come in terms of design, but it's a start.

16 January 2005

epiphany 2

Almighty God
your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
is the light of the world.
Grant that your people,
may shine with the radiance of his glory,
that he may be known,
worshipped, and obeyed
to the ends of the earth;
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

15 January 2005

week's end

The weather finally seems to be getting cold, below freezing at night, and looks as if it will remain that way for at least the next week. This is good news. Laurel's and my allergies never quite settle down until we get a number of consecutive days of frost. We did have some of days of that sort earlier in the season, but they were followed by a warm spell, which unfortunately not only has spurred our early bulbs to attempt to sprout, but also allowed mold and other allergens to regroup.

It's been a busier week than expected. Laurel seems to be fighting off some kind of tonsil infection or sore throat, which has slowed her down a bit. I've been busy working on some lectures, preparing for my Sunday lesson for the Adult Bible class at church, leading the Bible study that meets in our home, and trying to update schedules, topics, and syllabus for classes, which start up again on Tuesday.

Thursday was a good day, but particularly busy. I went up to Princeton for the better part of the day in order to use the Seminary library and to meet up with some acquaintances, both Reformed pastors, with whom I had lunch and a great theological conversation for several hours.

We also all visited the Old Nassau cemetery, which is a virtual "who's who" of American Presbyterian and Reformed figures, with the final resting places of Jonathan Edwards, John Witherspoon, Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, Casper Wistar Hodge, and B.B. Warfield, among others. I love showing folks around what remains of old Princeton and feel a warm connection with those great luminaries of the American Reformed past. Sometimes I worry I am too fond of our past, having been raised within the Presbyterian tradition, a heritage that goes back many generations on my mother's side. I even recently found myself comparing the Westminster Confession to an old blanket with bits of wear showing here and there, but nevertheless, so familiar and very nice to nestle down into.

When I got back home from Princeton, one of our friends from church called, who is also a nearby neighbor. The ceiling light fixture in her kitchen had caught on fire, though she was able to turn it off and use a fire extinguisher on it. The extinguisher and the fire, however, filled her apartment with nasty fumes and a huge mess of discharged powder. Her husband was out of town and she has two small kids, so after I went to make sure the fire was really out, they came over to spend the night. We ended up watching her son the next day while she undertook the daunting task of cleaning up the extinguisher mess which, when aimed at the ceiling, manages to get into about every nook and cranny imaginable.

The primary task I need to finish before returning to campus on Monday is to update the web materials for my classes. I now have a domain name and web hosting, so I hope to be able to have at least the rudiments of a new website up by Tuesday. Stay tuned.

14 January 2005

nathaniel stephens on baptism

As I've mentioned before, a study of 16th and 17th century Reformed understandings of baptism and, in particular, infant baptism yields the result that there was a wide variety of views that were discussed and, seemingly, acceptable within a generous Reformed orthodoxy, which we can define broadly as a confession consistent with the teachings of the Synod of Dort.

For instance, there were various questions with regard to the relationship between the covenant membership of infants of believers and the sacrament of baptism. Some questions involved whether the covenant promise extended only to the children of those who gave a credible profession of faith or if it extended to include grandchildren or the children of those who, though baptized, were living scandalously or had apostatized. Thomas Blake's The Birth-Priviledge or Covenant-Holinesse of Beleevers and Their Issue (1644) extends the covenant privilege and right to baptism very broadly.

Other questions involved the way in which baptism marked out covenant membership, whether, for instance, children were admitted to the covenant by baptism (the view of a few) or whether they were baptized because they were already members of the covenant (the dominant view). For others, the truth lay somewhere in between, as with one divine who wrote that infants of believers are within the covenant as a "jus ad rem," but do not have a "jus in re" with regard to the covenant until baptized.

The Westminster Larger Catechism presumably reflects this variety of views when it states, "infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant" (Q 166), thereby providing a statement ambiguous enough to satisfy a majority of parties.

Another area of diversity concerns "obsignation," that is, the nature of the sacrament as a "seal" of the covenant, something that assures and confirms to faith that the grace signified is given. For instance, in a discussion between two Puritan divines, one wrote that the "instrumental conveyance of the grace signified to the due receiever, is as true an effect of a sacrament, when it is administered, as obsignation, and is pre-existing in order of nature to obsignation." That is to say, a sacrament can only assure us as a seal of grace if that grace is first conveyed by the sacrament as God's instrument.

The other divine, however, replied, that such grace is "properly the grace of the covenant, which God doth confirm and seal by the sacraments." That is, a sacrament can only assure as a seal of grace if that grace is first offered in the covenant which, once the covenant is accepted by faith, is confirmed to that faith subsequently by the sacraments.

Still other divines, without denying the primary function of seals for assurance and confirmation of faith, also took the language of "seal" to include the sense that the grace signified by the sacrament was sealed to those who rightly received the sacrament, where "sealed" means something like "pressed onto," as sealing a package joins things together. The idea would be that the grace of the sacrament is "proffered and given" to the recipient of the sacrament and, to those who receive the sacrament rightly, also "effectually conveyed." They would not, of course, say that it is the material element or action of the sacrament itself that effects this sealing, but rather the promise of God contained with the sacrament and the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

In light of this diversity, it is interesting to look at the baptismal theology of Nathaniel Stephens, who published a defence of infant baptism in 1651 directed against the growing Baptist sect in England and the writings of certain Mr. Everard who was of the Baptist persuasion. Stephens' book was entitled A Precept for the Baptism of Infants Out of the New Testament.

Stephens, who lived from 1607 to 1678 was an English Puritan and Presbyterian, probably best known for having been George Fox's pastor before Fox founded Quakerism. He served as the rector of the parish of Fenny Drayton in Leicestershire until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642, though he returned to its pulpit in 1645 where he remained until the Act of Uniformity resulted in his ejection in 1662.

Stephens subscribed his name to the Solemn League and Covenant and was, from what I can gather, a supporter of the Westminster Assembly and the Standards it produced.

His treatise on baptism is interesting in several respects.

First, Stephens does not deploy the argument from circumcision as a central point in his demonstration. Rather, he argues from other biblical considerations, of which circumcision is only a subsidiary point. He summarizes his argument in this way:

I have gone through the three places of Scripture from which I did undertake to prove a precept for the baptism of infants in the New Testament. We have seen, first, that the children are comprehended inclusively and collectively in the word "them" [in] "teach all nations, baptizing them" (Matth. 28). Secondly, we have declared that
the children are included in the word of the command, "be baptized every one of you," because they are expressed in the word of promise (Acts 2.38,39). Thirdly, we have proved, because infants are born in original sin, they have now the same need of the regenerating seal by outward washing, "Except ye be born of water of the the Spirit" (John 3.5).

Second, as is evident from the above quotation, Stephens takes "water" in John 3:5 to refer to the sacrament of baptism, an exegetical opinion that was rapidly becoming a minority view in his day among those of Reformed perspective.

Third, Stephens provides one understanding of what can be meant by the term "seal" in the mid-17th century, apparently leaning towards some notion of "offer" and, to right recipients, "conveyance," as well as primarily denoting assurance and confirmation of faith. His discussion here focuses particularly upon the notion that baptism is a "seal of regeneration." It seems to me that, within the wider theological currents of his day, when Stephens says "regeneration" it is not merely a one-time event but also includes an ongoing process of purging sin and newness of life.

That is, I hope, a more than adequate introduction. The following is excerpted from his text:

In the conference with Nicodemus, our Saviour doth insist much upon the pollution of the natural birth and the necessity of regeneration, both by water without and the Spirit within. Now in this Scripture there is included a precept to believers to apply the outward washing to their children (born in original sin) the seal of the inward washing.

That this may be made manifest I will:

First, clear the text from two ordinary mistakes.

Secondly, from the words rightly expounded, I will show how the precept is deduced by necessary consequence.

For the mistakes, in the first place they do overshoot themselves that plead from hence an absolute necessity of the baptism of infants. Indeed there is an absolute necessity that all that are born in original sin, if they be saved, they must be saved by the covenant, but there is not a like necessity of the seal. In the times of the first dispensation to comfort believers in respect of their children born in original sin, the promise then was, "The seed of the woman shall break the serpent's head" (Gen 3.15). Yet there was no seal of this promise, no initial seal, for two thousand years together, from Adam to Abraham. Further there was not such absolute necessity of the seal in the times of circumcision for those that died before the eighth day.

There was then (as now is) an absolute necessity of salvation by the promise and covenant: but the necessity of the seal was only conditional, so far forth as it might be well had. Therefore, when the ancient writers (Fathers and Schoolmen) speak so much of the "necessity of baptism," and of the salvation of infants, strictly and precisely upon terms of baptism, to my understanding they ascribe too much to the outward ordinance and so do err in the other extreme. For the hope of salvation does not lie so much in the seal, as in the promise to which the seal is annexed.

Indeed the Lord having made a promise to believers concerning their children born in original sin, "That he will be their God and the God of their seed," in this case they must believe his word, and where he hath ordained a seal for the confirmation of their faith, they must take heed how they neglect to apply it, they must not (as more than too many do in these days) think it superfluous or an idle figure. All that we plead is this, that there is a necessity that lieth upon believing parents to baptize their children born in original sin. But how? The necessity is not absolute but conditional. In case the child die before baptism, he may be saved by the covenant and by the promise of God; yet I think such a parent that doth carelessly omit his duty, he will very hardly answer his neglect to God himself, his church, and I think at last, to his own conscience.

Secondly, to my understanding also they go too far, whosoever they be that do conclude that baptism itself doth regenerate or that it doth confer grace by the work done. It is a difficult point rightly to divide the matter between two extremes. If therefore I may deliver my thoughts concerning this matter, I do believe that as the Word preached, so the seals administered, according to the mind of Christ, in this they are the conduit pipes to carry the Spirit to the souls of men. But how? Not always, in all men, and at all times; but only when it pleaseth the Lord to work by them. But as to the particular of baptism, what the ordinance doth confer we will resolve in answering these several queries:

Query 1: What doth baptism confer to the pardon of original sins in infants?

Answer: It is certain that all who are born in the ordinary way since the fall of Adam, are born in the guilt of his original sin (Rom 5.12-14). Now this is the comfort to believers, that in Christ the promised seed there is pardon of this sin to their natural seed. Therefore, if the children of believers die before baptism, there is hope of their salvation by the promise. But if they die after baptism, the hope is not only grounded upon the promise, but it is also ratified by the seal. Therefore the infants that die unbaptized, the hope of their salvation is by promise; but the baptized infants of believers have hope of salvation both by promise and by seal. Thus far (as I conceive) baptism doth confer to the pardon of original sin in infants.

Query 2: What doth baptism confer to the pardon of actual sin in men of riper years?

Answer: It is a sure rule, that baptism doth not only seal the pardon of original, but also the pardon of actual sin. Ananias said to Paul, "Why tarriest thou? Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord" (Acts 22.16). So then, if the person baptized continue after baptism in cleansing and purging out sin, in judging and condemning himself daily for sin, he may be fully assured that the Lord will continue a daily pardon of sin. As sin is daily confessed, so it shall be daily pardoned upon true confession.

If any doubt should arise in the conscience concerning the continuation of pardon by the blood of Christ, whether the Lord would continue to pardon such sin as is committed after justification, the Apostle saith, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1.7-9). Why doth he say that he is faithful and just to forgive sin? This doth imply that he hath somewhere bound himself by promise to forgive sin to them that truly repent. It is true, he hath bound himself to the person baptized at the time of baptism to forgive and pardon sin, so far forth as sin is repented of. The person baptized may say, "I am assured of this, I have had it sealed to me forty, fifty, sixty years ago, at the time of my baptism." Where the conscience doth make a question, whether God will continue to pardon sin, the washing of baptism doth seal the assurance thereof.

Query 3: What doth baptism confer to the taking away of the pollution of original sin in infants?

Answer: Though the Pelagians of old and Mr. Everard of late do strongly dispute that children have no natural pollution derived from Adam, yet in this we cannot yield to them. It is plain from the scope of Scripture that as soon as men have a being, they have a polluted and sinful being. In case therefore they die in infancy, how is this pollution done away? In this we leave them to the extraordinary grace of God. He can cleanse them in an extraordinary way whom he will not suffer to come in the ordinary way to salvation. And this is all that we will say of that question.

Query 4: What doth baptism confer to the taking away from the pollution of nature in men of riper years?

Answer: It is plain by experience that all that are baptized are not regenerate. Therefore we cannot look upon baptism, but only as on a seal of regeneration. Forasmuch as the Lord for his part doth promise to give his Spirit to the person baptized that he may be regenerated; the person baptized for his part doth solemnly engage himself, that he will look for the Spirit which the Lord hath promised to give, that so he may come to the inward washing. In this (as I conceive) the efficacy and use of baptism doth principally stand. It doth principally stand in the agreement betwixt God and the believer, the Lord for his part, in the first place, under his seal, doth promise to give inward grace to the cleansing away of the pollution of nature; and the party baptized doth set to his seal, that he will endeavour to cleanse and wash, by the power and help of grace received.

The reason that moveth me so to think, is this. When the Lord said, "Circumcise the foreskin of your hearts and be no more stiff-necked" (Deut 10.16). Here if you go strictly to work, how could he require the circumcising of the heart, as spiritual and supernatural duty, how could he require this to be performed by weak and sinful men? To speak truly, in all the time of that administration he did never require them to circumcise the foreskin of their hearts by their own natural ability; but he required them to look to the promise sealed to them in the outward circumcision of the flesh. Because he required them to circumcise the foreskin of their heart in the word of command, he doth say, "I will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed in the word of promise" (Deut 30.6). And therefore the Psalmist finding by experience that he was conceived in sin and born in iniquity, he did pray to the Lord, that he would create in him a clean heart and renew within him a right Spirit (Psalm 51.5, 10). In this he did but pray for the inward circumcision of the heart, according to the word of promise, to which he had already obliged and bound himself to look after in the time of his outward circumcision.

The like reason may be given of the times of the New Testament, where the Lord doth command us "to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, to wash, to cleanse ourselves from all pollution of flesh and spirit." In this case we are not to take it as though we had an inward power to wash or cleanse our minds, but we are to consider when the Lord doth lay such a command upon us, it is in correspondence and relation to the promise sealed in the sacrament of baptism. Because he hath promised to give his Spirit inwardly to wash and cleanse our natures when we receive the outward washing, we for our parts do oblige and bind ourselves inwardly to wash by and through the supply of his Holy Spirit. Therefore, to shut up all, though baptism doth not confer regeneration, yet by that ordinance the Lord doth bind himself to give his Spirit toward that inward regeneration, so far forth as we do and shall endeavor to look after his promise.

And thus far I have gone in clearing the text from two great mistakes. I do not plead from the words ("except ye be born of water and of the Spirit") an absolute necessity of baptism by the outward element of water, but only a conditional. I do not plead that all who are outwardly baptized are inwardly regenerated, but that the Lord doth enter into covenant with them to give his regenerating Spirit, so far forth as they look and wait for it in the use of those means he has appointed. This is all that I do desire to speak concerning this matter, and I do it the rather because I would not give offence. I hope then that I shall be more willingly heard when I prove a precept but for the baptism of infants and for the necessity of their baptism from this Scripture.

The probation of the precept doth lie in two particulars:

First, by "water" is meant the outward water in baptism, as it doth refer to the inward washing of the Spirit.

Secondly, because children are born in original sin, there doth lie a necessity upon the parents to bring them to baptism, the seal of their regeneration.

That the outward baptism of water is here meant, the reasons that move me so to judge are these:

First, the general consent of all antiquity, together with many late writers, agree in it, that the external elementary baptism is here intended as a seal of the inward washing.

Secondly, it is more immediate to the words of the text to take the washing of water as the outward sign and the washing of the Spirit as the inward grace.

Thirdly, other places in Scripture do carry but one and the same sense. The washing of baptism is called "the washing of regeneration" (Tit 3.5). And the reason is this, because the inward washing of the Spirit in regeneration is sealed with the outward washing in baptism. Now is this all one with the birth by water and the Spirit? But if any man shall stand in it, that these and many other Scriptures cannot be meant of water baptism, then I would entreat him to show me the reason why the work of regeneration in the New Testament is so often called by the title and the name of washing? There is a purging by fire, so metals are refined (Mal 3.2). There is a purging by wind, so the corn is cleansed (Matt 3.12). Why then is the cleansing and purging and the inward renewing of the heart so frequently set forth by the washing of water? I think all will easily agree in it, because the outward washing is appointed as a seal of the inward washing of the new birth. If this be so, the birth by water must needs refer to the water of baptism as to the outward sign.

Fourthly, that which hath moved some late writers to depart from this interpretation, for the reason that hath moved them, we can clearly make it appear, that other Scriptures have the like show of difficulty of which no question is to be made but they speak of outward baptism. Of some of them apprehend that the present text ("except a man be born of water adn of te Spirit") cannot be meant of outward baptism, because then the baptism of water would be absolutely necessary to salvation. He that is troubled with this difficulty, let him consider that place, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16.16). In these words no man doubteth but the Lord Christ doth point to the outward baptism by water and in a sort he doth say that this baptism is necessary to salvation. How then are the words to be expounded? We must take them in this sense, that faith is more absolutely necessary to salvation, yet in a sort it is true, that baptism is necessary as the outward means. Why else would our Saviour say, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved"? We may in the present case give the same explanation. According to the manifest course of divine dispensation, we come to salvation by the new birth, and in the ordinary way, so far as it may conveniently be had, the outward washing is a seal of the inward washing of the Spirit.

These and many more reasons might be brought to prove that the outward baptism is intended in the words, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit." But in so plain a case these shall suffice. Now we come to prove the precept.

First, if it be granted that the outward elementary baptism is here intended, I think it will easily follow, in the conscience of every believing parent, that there is a necessity lieth upon him to bring his child to baptism. For if the Lord Christ that giveth salvation, doth require the outward baptism of water, and the inward baptism of the Spirit, both these as the ordinary mean to salvation in such a case for a parent that is mindful of the salvation of his infant, it is not for him curiously to dispute, whether an infant unbaptized may be saved? But it lieth upon him to do that which is required, and so to avoid the danger. But let us more particularly insist upon the baptism of infants, the word of command must necessarily be applied, because of the pollution of their natural birth. The scope of the text is chiefly concerning these three particulars:

First, that all by nature are defiled with original sin.

Secondly, there is a necessity of the new birth.

Thirdly, the outward washing in baptism is a seal of the inward washing.

This being laid as a ground that the infant is born in original sin, and that they outward baptism is a seal of the washing away of they pollution of sin by the Spirit of Christ, upon such a supposition I think we may not use many arguments to the believing parent, to bring his infant to the washing of baptism. No man can be ignorant, where the disease is, there is a need of the remedy. And therefore when our Saviour doth press a necessity of washing both by water and the Spirit, he doth not urge this so immediately in reference to actual sin, as in reference to birth-sin, and to the natural pollution in which infants are born. The consideration of the guilt and the pollution of the birth-sin, doth draw in the necessity of infant baptism. And therefore in the former ages of the church we shall find all along that they that understood the vileness of the natural pollution (as Augustine and others), they were more forward for baptism in infancy. On the other side, those that thought infants to be free from all original pollution, as derived from Adam (for of this judgments were the Pelagians of old and Mr. Everard and his followers of late), they both were and now are most lax and careless in the perfomance of that duty to their own children.

But if this will not convince, let it be considered in the fear of God, wherefore there was suck a strict command given to the Jews to circumcise thier infants in their dispensation. If the like reason doth hold that infants have now one and the same need of the seal of the new birth, under this last, as well as they had under their dispensation, why should not parents now make the same conscience to bring their children to the seal of regeneration or the new birth now as well as then?

If you've read this far, that is quite a feat.

Some of the details of exactly what Stephens is saying still remain unclear to me. Nevertheless, it is clear that Stephens, like a number of other Puritans, did see baptism as something like a "converting ordinance," in the sense that conversion or renewal of heart was among the ends of the sacrament and part of the grace offered and sealed to those who received the sacrament rightly.

Whatever the case, the more I read various Reformed figures in the 16th and 17th century, the more difficult I find it to categorize them neatly, particularly in terms of what later came to be understood (perhaps in the 19th century) as "standard Reformed theology" or "vanilla Presbyterianism" or however one might prefer to name it.

And, while there are exceptions to the following observation, I am also continually impressed by the generosity of spirit and moderation with which sometimes sharply disagreeing divines regarded one another so long as there was a shared confession in the essential articles of evangelical and Reformed religion.

11 January 2005


I received a nice Westminster Seminary Bookstore gift certificate from my parents for Christmas. So today I ventured over to the Seminary and wandered the bookstore for a while trying to figure out what to buy. Bookstores are far too tempting, especially when you've got a gift certificate to spend--and without the guilt of spending your own money.

There are a number of recent publications I would like to read, but what one would like to own is generally a more narrow selection. After all, there's nothing worse than investing in a book only to read it, think it was pretty mediocre, and then have it take up valuable shelf space. In other cases, some books are simply outside of my expertise and, while they may be helpful in their own way, they're still not something I'm likely to want to refer back to time and again.

In the end, I acquired the following:

Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (P&R 2004).

James K.A. Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-Secular Theology (Baker Academic 2004).

Hans Boersma, Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition (Baker Academic 2004).

All three are books that have come highly recommended, are ones I've had my eye on for some time, and are the sorts of work that both intersect with my philosophical interests and, I hope, will have some kind of abiding significance or usefulness.

The Robert Letham volume looks like a fairly comprehensive Trinitarian theology. The past century of theological development has gone a long way towards recovering the Trinitarian shape of Christian theology as that is present in the Scriptures and in some of the Fathers and medievals. Of course, some treatments have gone in questionable directions (e.g., Moltmann who, for all of his insightfulness, too handily rejects large parts of classical theism). I trust that Letham will provide a fair and searching overview of both classical theology and more recent development.

I've looked forward to reading Jamie Smith's introduction since he told me about it and allowed me to look at his proposal over a year and a half ago. Smith has a way of taking the sometimes complex concepts and theological jargon of Radical Orthodoxy and explaining them in a way that is more readily grasped. Moreover, he self-consciously writes from within the Reformed tradition--particularly it's neo-calvinist expression--but with deep sympathies and cooperation with Radical Orthodoxy, even as he sometimes criticizes aspects of it, as well as having an ongoing interest in the emerging church movement. Smith, therefore, also writes with an eye to the practical implications of Radical Orthodoxy for the life of the church.

The Hans Boersma book is the one I know the least about, though it comes highly recommended from sources I trust (including Jamie Smith). It attempts to think through a biblical theology of the atonement, one that emerges from within traditional Reformed (and even scholastic) theology, but takes figures such as Levinas, Derrida, and Girard as major conversation partners, even while engaging in a retrieval of the atonement theologies of Irenaeus and Gregory of Nyssa. As is evident from the title, the themes of violence and hospitality are programmatic for Boersma's argument.

I'm not sure when I'll actually get a chance to read these three works, but I hope to report back when I do.

09 January 2005

baptism of our Lord

Eternal Father,
at the baptism of Jesus
you revealed him to be your Son,
and anointed him with the Holy Spirit.
Keep all who are born
of water and the Spirit
faithful to their calling as your people;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

07 January 2005

scottish baptismal rite

As I noted below, John Knox's 1556 Book of Common Order was sanctioned by the General Assembly as the standard for worship in the Reformed Church of Scotland from 1564 to 1645.

Below is an excerpt from "The Order of Baptism" provided by that book, with peculiar 16th century spellings updated to standard English. The rite is, from our modern standpoint, overbearingly long and wordy. But in the 16th century context, in which many people were not literate and not well-instructed in Christian doctrine, such a rite was most helpful and, probably, encouraging.

Here's the text:

The infant which is to be baptized shall be brought to the church, on the day appointed to common prayer and preaching, accompanied with the father and god-father, so that, after the sermon, the child being presented to the minister, he demandeth this question:

Minister: Do you here present this child to be baptized, earnestly desiring that he may be engrafted in the mystical body of Jesus Christ?

Answer: Yes, we require the same.

The minister proceedeth: Then let us consider, dearly beloved, how Almighty God hath not only made us his children by adoption (Rom 8; Gal 4; Eph 1) and received us into the fellowship of his church, but also hath promised that he will be our God and the God of our children, unto the thousand generation (Gen 17; Isa 56). Which things, as he confirmed to his people of the Old Testament by the sacrament of Circumcision, so hath he also renewed the same to us in his New Testament by the sacrament of Baptism, doing us thereby to wit [i.e., in order that we might know] that our infants appertain to him by covenant and, therefore, ought not to be defrauded of those holy signs and badges, whereby his children are known from infidels and pagans (Gen 17; Col 2: Acts 10).

Neither is it requisite that all these that receive this sacrament have the use of understanding and faith, but chiefly that they be contained under the name of God's people, so that remission of sins in the blood of Christ Jesus doth appertain unto them by God's promise; which thing is most evident by Saint Paul who pronounceth the children begotten and born (either of the parents being faithful) to be clean and holy (1 Cor 7). Also our Saviour Christ admitteth children to his presence, embracing and blessing them (Mark 10; Matt 10; Luke 18; Psalm 22). Which testimonies of the Holy Ghost assure us, that infants be of the number of God's people and that remission of sins doth also appertain to them in Christ. Therefore, without injury they cannot be debarred from the common sign of God's children. And yet is not this outward action of such necessity that the lack thereof should be hurtful to their salvation, if that, prevented by death, they may not conveniently be presented to the church. But we (having respect to that obedience which Christians owe to the voice and ordinance of Christ Jesus, who commanded to preach and baptize all, without exception) do judge them only unworthy of any fellowship with him, who contemptuously refuse such ordinary means as his wisdom hath appointed to the instruction of our dull senses (Mark 16; Matt 21).

Furthermore, it is evident that baptism was ordained to be ministered in the element of water, to teach us, that like as water outwardly doth wash away the filth of the body, so, inwardly doth the virtue of Christ's blood purge our souls from that corruption and deadly poison, wherewith by nature we were infected; whose venemous dregs, although they continue in this our flesh, yet, by the merits of his death are not imputed to us because the justice of Jesus Christ is made ours by baptism (Matt 5; 1 Pet 5; 1 John 5; 1 Cor 10; Eph 2). Not that we think any such virtue or power to be included in the visible water or outward action; for many have been baptized and yet never inwardly purged; but that our Saviour, Christ, who commanded baptism to be ministered will, by power of his Holy Spirit, effectually work in the hearts of his elect, in time convenient, all that is meant and signified by the same. And this the Scripture calleth our "regeneration," which standeth chiefly in these two points: in mortification, that is to say, a resisting of the rebellious lusts of the flesh; and in newness of life, whereby we continually strive to walk in that pureness and perfection wherewith we are clad in baptism.

And although we, in the journey of this life, be encumbered with many enemies, which, in the way, assail us, yet fight we not without fruit. For this continual battle which we fight against sin, death, and hell is a most infallible argument that God the Father, mindful of his promise made unto to us in Christ Jesus, doth not only give us motions and courage to resist them, but also assurance to overcome and obtain victory. Wherefore, dearly beloved, it is not of necessity only that we be once baptized, but also it much profiteth oft to be present at the ministration thereof, that we (being put in mind of the league and covenant made between God and us, that he will be our God and we his people, he our Father and we his children) may have occasion as will to try our lives past, as our present conversation; and to prove ourselves whether we stand fast in the faith of God's elect or, contrariwise, have strayed from him through incredulity [i.e., lack of faith] and ungodly living (Jer 31; Heb 8; 6). Whereof, if our consciences do accuse us, yet, by hearing the loving promises of our heavenly Father (who called all men to mercy by repentance), we may, from henceforth, walk more warily in our vocation.

Moreover, ye that be fathers and mothers, may take hereby most singular comfort to see your children thus received into the bosom of Christ's congregation; whereby you are daily admonished that ye nourish and bring up the children of God's favor and mercy, over whom his Fatherly providence watcheth continually. Which thing, as it ought greatly to rejoice you, knowing that nothing can come unto them without his good pleasure, so ought it to make you diligent and careful to nurture and instruct them in the true knowledge and fear of God; wherein, if ye be negligent, ye do not only injury unto your children, hiding from them the good will and pleasure of Almighty God, their Father, but also heap damnation upon yourselves, in suffering his children, bought with the blood of his dear Son, so traitorously for lack of knowledge to turn back from him. Therefore, it is your duty with all diligence to provide that your children, in time convenient, be instructed in all doctrine necessary for a true Christian; chiefly, that they be taught to rest upon the justice of Christ Jesus alone and to abhor and flee all superstition, Papistry, and idolatry.

Finally, to the intent that we may be assured that you, the father and surety, consent to the performance hereof, declare here, before the face of his congregation, the sum of that faith wherein you believe and will instruct this child.

Then the father or, in his absence, the god-father, shall rehearse the article of his faith, which done, the minister exponeth the same... [The text of the rite continues with the articles of the Apostle's Creed and a explanation for each of the articles.]

Then followeth this prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, which of thine infinite mercy and goodness hath promised us that thou will not only be our God, but also the God and Father of our children, we beseech thee that, as thou hath vouchsafed to call us to be partakers of this, thy great mercy in the fellowship of faith, so it may please thee to sanctify with thy Spirit and to receive into the number of thy children, this infant, whom we shall baptize according to thy Word; to the end that he, coming to perfect age, may confess thee only the true God and whom thou hath sent, Jesus Christ, and so serve him and be profitable unto his church in the whole course of his life that, after his life is ended, he may be brought, as a lively member of his body, unto the full fruition of thy joys in the heavens, where thy Son, our Saviour, Christ reigneth, world without end, in whose name we pray, as he hath taught us, "Our Father..." etc.

When they have prayed in this sort, the minister requireth the child's name, which known, he saith, "N., I baptize thee in the of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matt 28; Mark 16: Acts 2).

And as he speaketh these words, he taketh water in his hand and layeth it upon the child's forehead, which done he giveth thanks as followeth: Forasmuch, most holy and merciful Father, as thou doth not only beautify and bless us with common benefits like unto the rest of mankind, but also heapeth upon us must abundantly rare and wonderful gifts, of duty we lift up our eyes and minds unto thee and give thee most humble thanks for thy infinite goodness, which hath not only numbered us among thy saints, but also of thy free mercy doth call our children unto thee, marking them with this sacrament, as a singular token and badge of thy love. Wherefore, most loving Father, though we be not able to deserve this so great a benefit, yea, if thou would handle us according to our merits, we should suffer the punishments of eternal death and damnation; yet, for Christ's sake, we beseech thee that thou will confirm this thy favor more and more towards us and take this infant in thy tuition and defense, whom we offer and present unto thee with common supplications. And never suffer him to fall into such unkindness whereby he should lose the force of baptism; but that he may perceive thee continually to be his merciful Father, through thine Holy Spirit working in his heart, by whose divine power he may so prevail against Satan taht, in the end, obtaining the victory, he may be exalted into the liberty of thy kingdom. So be it.

This baptismal rite, though perhaps not something one might want to use liturgically today, nonetheless bears witness to the theology of baptism within the Scottish Reformed Church in the 16th and 17th centuries. As such, it might be fruitfully read alongside the resources I outlined in my essay, "The Early Scots Reformed on Baptism."

happy parenting

One of the more amusing gifts we received this Christmas was a book entitled: The Three-Martini Playdate: A Practical Guide to Happy Parenting, by Christie Mellor (Chronicle Books 2004).

Despite the cheeky title, the book is actually full of all kinds of good practical advice and is probably one of the better things I've seen in the popular "parenting" genre.

Here's a paragraph:

Children are surprisingly adept at learning, and are, even at a very young age, able to understand when you tell them not to go under the sink because there is poison there, and if they touch it they will turn purple and die. If they are too young or too willful to understand the simplest of warnings, then by all means, hide your ammonia and caustics and airplane glue where they can't get at them, but get a grip when you find yourself about to put a lock on the flatware drawer. If you don't teach them now, do not be surprised when, forty years from now, your adult son electrocutes himself with a spoon, or drowns in the toilet, or repeatedly lights his hair on fire while using the stove.
All very sound advice, I think.

06 January 2005


The laptop shopping turned out to be successful. We came home with a new laptop, a wireless router, a 512 MB flash drive, and a new printer/copier/scanner.

I'm sure the novelty of it will wear off, but the ability to use a computer and the internet from anywhere in the house is amazingly freeing. And with nearly $300 in rebates, the whole package of things was really quite reasonably priced.

We had talked about getting a new printer, but wanted to see how well we could do price-wise on a laptop before deciding to get a printer too. My old printer had died awhile ago and Laurel's laser printer, which we'll continue to use some, is over 10 years old and a bit slow.

It'll take a while to get used to the "feel" of a laptop, but so far, it feels fine.

epiphany of our Lord

Eternal God,
by a star
you led wise men to the worship of your Son.
Guide by your light the nations of the earth,
that the whole world may know your glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns,
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

05 January 2005

sunday and seasonal collects

Someone asked me where I was getting the Collects (a kind of prayer) that I've been posting for the various Sundays in Advent, Christmas Eve, and so on.

The ones I've been posting are from the Church of Scotland's Book of Common Order (St Andrew Press, 1994), which follows in the tradition of John Knox's Book of Common Order, first published in 1556. That book went through various editions and was the official standard for Reformed Scottish worship from 1564 to 1645, when it was displaced by the Westminster Directory, which was itself much rooted in its traditions.

The modern Book of Common Order came into usage in 1928 when a version was approved and issued by the United Free Church of Scotland, that book being revised and reissued in 1940 by the Church of Scotland after its union with the United Free Church. Several more editions have been produced subsequently.

In the preface to this prayer book, it states:

The Church of Scotland, since the Reformation, has provided publications such as this to aid the corporate experience of worship. These books have never been prescriptive, making "this and this only" mandatory on ministers and congregations...
In this regard, the Scottish book is rather different from the Book of Common Prayer in England, which functions more as an absolute formulary. In Scotland, the practice has always been more to provide a standard and model of worship, by which the minister is given freedom for extempore prayer as well as flexibility of usage. The modern book offers orders of service, patterns of prayer that can be used as models, and a variety of liturgical resources that can be drawn upon for various needs.

The preface comments, "This is a common book, because it belongs to all the people of God," following the Reformational understanding of the priesthood of all believers and, thereby, providing services in which the participation of the whole conrgegation is an integral part. It also is "common" in that it draws upon "the common heritage of prayer and devotion of the whole Church" throughout history.

The book is also "a book of order," as the preface notes, in good Presbyterian fashion:

In worship we engage as the Body of Christ in an encounter with almighty God. This engagement should never become a rambling incoherence of well-meaning phrases and gestures. It should exhibit that deliberate and historical patterning of sentiment and expression that befit the meeting of the son and daughters of earth with the King of kings.
It is intended to bring a sense of "purpose and direction" to conrgegational worship so that they are never "placed in the position of being spectators at a performance which is entirely dependent on the aesthetic, emotional, and spiritual whims of its leaders." The preface goes on to conlclude, "The enemy of the Spirit is not form but anarchy."

While I personally prefer some of the older editions of the Scottish Common Order, I would commend any of the editions as a valuable resource for Reformed worship.

04 January 2005

like sand through an hourglass

Not that my life is a soap opera. It's just the days until classes start up again are slipping by quickly and I'm already behind on my "things to do" list.

Now I have a better sense of what I'm going to do with the summer online course I'll be teaching, have made some decisions about the interface, and have begun some rudimentary design for the class website. In order to remove any ambiguities about the ownership of the class materials, I won't be using the university's own server as a host, but will be buying web-hosting elsewhere. Since I'm going to do that, I'll be getting a domain name and will probably move all my web materials over to it sooner or later.

Much of yesterday and part of today I worked on some lectures I'll be presenting in March on the topic of baptism. The one lecture will be focused more on biblical typology and the other more on historical theology. I'll post more details later and will probably post some excerpts from various historical resources I've been perusing.

I'm still catching up on various emails I owe folks. If you are one of those people, thanks for your patience. I'll get to it sooner or later.

I've also been trying to catch up some on various aspects of matters that have proven controversial in conservative Reformed circles. I'm no fan of controversy, don't want to get into any extended debate, and I'm not entirely sure why some of these matters are really all that controversial. Nevertheless, since I'm implicated in some of this business, even if indirectly, I do need to make some decisions about to what degree it is worth responding and to what degree it is safe to ignore things.

On Thursday we're going laptop shopping and any recommendations are appreciated (other than Apple stuff, which is out of our price range).

Since I promised Laurel that I'll crawl out of my hole so she can spend evenings with me, I'm off to watch some of the bonus features on the extended Return of the King DVDs, accompanied by a generous glass of port.

02 January 2005

christmas 2

God of power and life,
you are the glory of all who believe in you.
Fill the world with your splendour
and show the nations the light
of your truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.