28 February 2005

another snow day

And I needed it.

Actually, only one of my classes today was cancelled, once snow began to fall in the middle of the day. The weather report suggests we could have 8 or more inches by tonight. But even a single class is a nice little break, despite the fact it will put my course schedule out of whack.

Yesterday I (barely) finished teaching the final chapter of Zechariah in our Adult Bible School. With one Sunday cancelled due to snow, I managed to squeeze 14 complicated chapters into only 11 weeks.

I was given the possibility of finishing up next week, if I needed the extra day, even though that would normally be our quarterly day of prayer. But I was already scheduled to speak at an Adult Sunday School class at Calvary PCA in Willow Grove on the topic of open theism, a lecture I still need to finish up preparing.

The next few weeks will be busy. On March 12, as I've mentioned before, I'll be leading an all day seminar on baptism (also not quite finished). In early April there is a conference at Baylor University in Waco, Texas where I will be part of a panel discussion on the topic of comedy, theology, and literature. Though my presentation will be relatively short, I still need to finish it.

Grading, unfortunately, has begun to pile up and midterm grades are due shortly for freshmen. Thankfully, next week is our (ill-named) "Spring Break," to which I am very much looking forward.

27 February 2005

lent 3

Almighty God,
you give the water of eternal life
through Jesus Christ your Son.
May we always thirst for you,
the spring of life and goodness;
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

26 February 2005

mark noll at wts

On Monday, 7 March 2005, Westminster Theological Seminary will be hosting Wheaton College professor of history, Mark Noll for an afternoon of discussion about his work.

Noll will be speaking about "providence and the Christian historian" followed by a panel discussion of his book America's God. The panel will also include a number of other prominent church historians, including several of Westminster's own faculty.

The events will be held in Rust Auditorium, Van Til Hall, at WTS beginning at 1:45pm. It's free and no registration is required. If anyone from the Philly area is planning on attending, let me know.

25 February 2005

thomas blake on covenant nurture

Thomas Blake (1596-1657) was a Puritan minister in the Church of England, who wrote and published a number of works in the middle of the 17th century. Blake was also closely connected to the Westminster Assembly, involved with debates arising out of the committee that examined the issue of infant baptism. Moreover, his writings on baptism carried the endorsement of several members of the Assembly.

On the issue of the nurture of baptized covenant children, Blake writes the following in his 1644 work The Birth Priviledge:




...the seed of believers, thus by birth-right-privilege baptized, have a large and full right to all the ordinances of God and privileges of the Church appertaining to members, as they shall be capable of their use, wheresoever by the providence of God they are cast.

The consequence is evident: They now visibly belong to Christ, they through him are dedicated to God, they have therefore title to all his visible ordinances. They are now of the household of God and of the citizens of the saints orderly admitted. Scripture knows no other admission than Baptism, no church-covenants intervening. They have right to all the immunities of this house, to all the privileges of this city of God. There is some time after baptism in infancy before they have the capacity to be hearers, but as soon as they can hear to profit, so soon they must be received, not as strangers, but as children, not as infidels, but as Christians.

Let the parents of such seed now see what education is expected. Breeding must answer birth and descent. A Christian is of the noblest birth. The Apostle calls upon parents to bring up their children "in nurture and admonition of the Lord." God may call on them thus to bring up his children, in nature theirs, in covenant God's. Every Christian parent hath a child of God committed to his care and tuition.

...For themselves it is much to be able with the Psalmist to say, "Thou art he that took me out of the womb. Thou didest make me to hope when I was upon my mother's breast. I was cast upon thee from the womb; thou art my God from my mother's belly." Thus puts upon confidence in prayer (as an argument drawn from long continued acquaintance) as there follows, "Be not far from me, for trouble is near." Such have timely knowledge of God, sucking in somewhat of him while they suck milk from the breasts.

An expression of height setting out this birth-happiness, that hath sure more in it than can be applied to "sinners of the Gentiles." See how the Psalmist yet further pleads it with God, "O Lord, truly I am thy servant, I am thy servant and the son of thine handmaid." An allusion to the Law of servants, who were the "inheritance of the Master" in whose house they were born. I am such saith the Psalmist ("thy servant, thy servant") with all earnestness of affection. I am of thine "inheritance," I am one of thine "house-born servants," my mother was thine hand-maid. The same relation he pleads also and in the same words, Psalm 86:16. Thus Isaiah in like manner takes notice of, "The Lord called me from the womb, from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name."

The Apostle will have the Ephesians to "remember that past time when they were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenant of promise, having no hope, without God in the world." There never was a time in which these of this birth-privilege were in that condition. From the womb they were God's heritage and with Timothy (some in greater, some in lesser measure) "from children have the knowledge of the Scriptures," if not with John the Baptist, "full of the Holy Ghost from the womb," which doubtless is the happiness of not a few among Christians, who are eminent in sanctification, whose growth in grace is seen, and yet the beginnings not known.

24 February 2005

the anglican communion

Communique issued by the Primates of the Anglican Communion meeting in Dromantine, County Down, Northern Ireland - 24th February 2005.

of "high church" presbyterians

I see that Daryl Hart has a book coming out soon entitled, John Williamson Nevin: High Church Calvinist (P&R 2005).

Nevin is probably best known for his involvement in what came to be called the "Mercersburg theology," a kind of catholic and liturgical renewal within the German Reformed Church in reaction to the growing revivalism and individualistic pietism that had begun to pervade even orthodox Reformed communions. Thus Hart designates Nevin a "high church Calvinist" (see also Hart's essay, "Rediscovering Mother Kirk: Is High-Church Presbyterianism an Oxymoron?" that appeared in the Decemeber 2000 issue of Touchstone magazine).

We can also note that A.A. Hodge once described himself as "a good Presbyterian, a High Church Presbyterian--because we have a High Church as well as a Low Church." Despite Hodge and Hart's use of this sort of terminology, the idea of a "high church Calvinist" today likely sounds a bit peculiar, especially given the history of the term of "high church," which has its origins in Anglicanism, and remained largely alien to the wider Reformed tradition.

Nevertheless, on several occasions I've heard myself described by others as a "high church Presbyterian" or even, on a couple of occasions, as a "Scoto-Catholic."

Now, I suppose such a designation can be intended in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek fashion--or perhaps as a shorthand, somewhat caricatured gesture that suggests my general theological proclivities: a robustly Calvinian sacramental theology, coupled with an affection for the historic liturgical patterns of the Reformed churches. But apart from such caricature and shorthand, I would want to reject the "high church" label.

After all, the "high church" label carries some significant baggage with it.

Prior to the 19th century the terminology of "high church" referred primarily to a particular party within the Church of England, including figures such as Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes, Herbert Thorndike, Jeremy Taylor, and William Beveridge.

That list of divines suggests that the "high church" designation has more to do with questions of liturgy, ceremony, and a broad catholicity than it does with, for instance, any commitment to a particular soteriological viewpoint. Divines such as Hooker, John Bramhall, John Whitgift, or George Morley were all orthodox Calvinists while at the same maintainng high church viewpoints of various stripes (I say "of various stripes" given that a figure such as Whitgift had more extreme views and was more willing to impose them by force, if necessary, than a more moderate figure such as Hooker). Other divines such as Andrewes or Taylor, however, moved to varying degrees towards a more thoroughgoing Arminianism.

We should also be clear that, within the 17th and 18th centuries, the "high church" designation did not necessarily entail the kinds of aggressive policy of forced uniformity associated with William Laud, along with his extreme Erastianism and his over-fondness for ceremonials that could only strike many of his more Reformed contemporaries as Romanizing. Prior to the 19th century, much of "high churchmanship" would not have struck modern observers as especially "Anglo-Catholic."

Despite differences and diversity, the "high church" party, however, did share a number of common commitments: historic episcopacy (though not necessarily jure divino in every instance), the liturgy of the Prayer Book, a broad catholicity, a strong sacramental piety, and at least a moderate use of ceremony (e.g. reverencing the altar).

Given the basic contours of the Anglican "high church" party, it should be evident that the Reformed churches of the Continent and Scotland, even at their most liturgical, were not marked by "high churchmanship," except perhaps by a loose analogy and in contrast with Brownism (as Independency was often called), certain forms of Puritanism, and the new "free church" traditions that were just beginning to emerge. Even so, none of these contrasts would stamp the other Reformed churches as having a genuinely "high church" temperament.

The Reformed Church of Scotland, for instance, never adopted a book of "common prayer" in the Anglican sense, but rather endorsed Knox's Book of Common Order, which remained its official order until 1645. While Common Order did introduce a fairly set order of worship into the Scottish Church, the content of that order was not uniformly prescribed.

Instead, the book offered multiple prayers for the various parts of the service from which a minister might choose or which might serve as models for his own studied prayers. In this way, the Scottish kirk maintained a somewhat consistent liturgy across Scotland, but with significant room for freedom and adaptation. Even the Westminster Directory, which came to take the official place of Common Order, prescribed an order and gave models for prayer that could be easily adapted for actual use (prescribed prayers were omitted from the Directory mostly in order to appease the Independents).

With regard to gestures, customs, and ceremony, the Reformed churches did not eschew all ceremony, traditional rituals, and other customs that were, in themselves, indifferent, so long as they were conformable to the Word of God, not liable to perpetuate superstition or error, and had historical precedent and time-honored use.

For instance, Reformed churches (Geneva, France, Scotland) retained the custom of having godparents at the baptism of infants. Likewise, the Reformed churches of France and Geneva retained the communion wafer, rather than moving towards common bread as was the case in Scotland and the Netherlands (though I myself find common bread preferable). All Reformed congregations retained kneeling as the expected posture for prayer, at least until the end of the 17th century and often well into the 18th.

Likewise, throughout Reformed churches--other than those of some English Independents--the congregation continued to come foward to the Table in order to receive communion, either seated around the Table (as in Scotland, the Netherlands, and Westphalia) or standing around the Table (as in France and Geneva). In Scotland the practice was for communicants to distribute the elements among themselves before the minister dismissed them from the Table with the words, "Go in peace from the Table of the Lord and may the God of love and peace go with you."

Many Reformed churches continued to confess the Creed, to follow Psalms with a version of the Gloria Patri, and to maintain other customary texts, even when not explicitly specified by the written liturgy (e.g., the use of the epiclesis in Scotland, even though Common Order didn't prescribe it). Some Reformed congregations even kept the "lavabo" (the minister rinsing his hands prior to administering communion) or the mixed chalice. One could enumerate many other similar customs retained by Reformed churches.

So, for example, the 17th century Scots divine Robert Baillie--hardly a high churchman--took a stand against the influence of the English Independents whose ideas were leading some in Scotland to object to these practices. He wrote the following regarding some parishoners who had begun to refuse to sing the Gloria Patri,

As you would loathe to give up your prayers, sacraments, and preaching, as you would not forsake wholly our church, and your sworn covenant, and drink down all the errors of Brownism, take heed to the spirit which you find so ready to learn the first lessons of those seducers...As for the putting of that matter at the end of a psalm, the church which hath power to order the parts of God's worship hath good reason for it, for Christ in that pattern of all prayers and praises teaches us to conclude "for thine is the glory for ever." (Letters volume I, 362)


Likewise, with the growing influence of the English Independents, the Church of Scotland itself, in the General Assembly of 1643, passed an act that forbade "all condemning one another in such lawful things as have been universally received, and by perpetual custom practiced by the most faithful ministers of the gospel and opposers of corruptions of this kirk, since the beginning of the Reformation to these times" (Records of the Kirk 349). This seems to be directed particularly at those who were beginning to object to the use of recited prayers (such as the Lord's Prayer), the use of the Gloria Patri at the end of Psalms, and the custom of the minister kneeling in the pulpit before preaching.

Nevertheless, none of these practices would really qualify the Reformed churches as "high church," even in the 17th century Anglican sense of that term. Despite their customs, Reformed churches did not mandate a prayerbook, they did not reverence the altar, they were often architecturally spare and restrained, they set aside gestures and customs that appeared to get in the way of or over-complicate or obscure the pure ministry of word and sacrament (e.g., they didn't reserve the eucharist or continue post-baptismal anointing), and they did not enforce prayers and rubrics where liberty was appropriate.

If the Reformed churches were not "high church" in the 17th century Anglican sense of the term, then the traditional worship of the Reformed churches came to appear even less "high church" in light of what that term came to mean within 19th century Anglicanism in connection with Tractarianism (or the "Oxford Movement").

A new kind of high churchmanship emerged from the Tractarians that, in tandem with the Ecclesiological and Gothic Revival movements, produced what we think of today as "Anglo-Catholicism." Unlike the high churchmen of the 17th and 18th centuries, a certain sort of medievalism and romanticism characterized Anglo-Catholicism, by which it reinterpreted and applied the Book of Common Prayer in keeping with Roman ceremony. This was typically coupled with an embrace of transubstantiation, an exaltation of tradition, and jure divino episcopacy and succession as of the esse of the church.

And when people speak today, in popular parlance, of the "high church" they intende just this sort of Anglo-Catholicism. But such Anglo-Catholcism is, in almost every respect, significantly removed from the historic teaching and practice of Reformed churches or the kinds of liturgical renewal we are witnessing in some contemporary Reformed circles. This is a large part of the reason why I would balk at applying the term "high church" to my own views on ecclesiology, sacraments, and worship, though, at the same time, I am probably just as far away from the "low churchmanship" of most American "free church" evangelicalism.

I should also mention that, in the late 19th century, a movement emerged within the Scottish church often called "Scoto-Catholicism" and typically associated with John Macleod of Govan and an organization called the Scottish Church Society. Macleod founded the Society in 1892 "to defend and advance catholic doctrine as set forth in the ancient creeds and embodied in the standards of the Church of Scotland."

While in some respects this goal was laudable, the difficulty in practice was the manner in which the Society implemented its mission. As with Anglo-Catholicism, the Scoto-Catholics tended towards a romanticized idealism about an earlier era, an almost archaeological retrieval of the liturgical past, and a penchant for over-stressing the continuities of the Reformed Scottish Kirk with pre-Reformational practices.

Despite what I termed my "robustly Calvinian sacramental theology" and "affection for the historic liturgical patterns of the Reformed churches," I would reject any kind of over-idealization of the past or archaeological project, and thus any suggestion of "Scoto-Catholicism."

I do very much believe that we must continue to embrace what is best in our Reformed heritage--including our liturgical and sacramental heritage--but we must do so in a manner by which we can fulfill our Gospel calling to the present generation and with an eye to the future. This requires flexibility and a willingness to adapt historic forms in light of biblical-theological reflection that engages our present time and culture, in order that the church can maintain its missional focus, a generous catholicity, and its own integrity as a counter-culture in itself.

In light of all these considerations, I do reject the "high church" label as too liable to misunderstanding and misconstrual, as well as potentially undermining the sort of vision that I share with many others for the future of our calling as Reformed and Presbyterian believers and worshippers.

23 February 2005

concerning toddlers

At two and a half year old, Claire is, in many respects, a typical toddler. She likes to play, is gaining huge amounts of new vocabulary every day, has occasional fits of temper, and is very good at being terribly cute.

These days she seems very much into arrangements of objects. She will, for instance, pull out all her barn- and animal-related toys and carefully set them up, one-by-one, until she has created a huge complex of them all, with fences fanning out from barns and sheds containing animals lined up in neat rows. Claire will do similar layouts with her picnic set, magnetic letters, blocks, matching card game, and so on.

She's also grown quite attached to a particular crocheted blanket which she has named "Ning-nyeh" (which, I'm guessing, makes the blanket Asian). The blanket is a "her," apparently has feelings, has one particular edge that is her "nose," and likes and dislikes certain events and objects. Ning-nyeh regularly gets flithy, being dragged all around the house, and thus gets a weekly washing through which, so far, she's held up just fine.

Claire's also has taken an interest in the computer and the various games and stories that are available through PBSkids.org, even using the touchpad on the laptop to move bunnies around or to color pictures by pointing and clicking. It will be interesting see she how she develops with regard to technology since, unlike me, she will grow up in a world where there always have been high-powered personal computers.

In that connection, tomorrow afternoon, Educause will be showing a film called "Educating the Net Generation" which they describe in these terms:

Learn how freshman and seniors are different in their views and uses of technology, how students would like information to be delivered in terms of technology, and the impact the internet and technology is having on the learning process.

Since I'm on the Arts & Sciences technology committee, I've been encouraged to go watch this film as we draw technology goals La Salle's School of Arts and Sciences.

Well, it's mid-term and I've got lots of grading and other work, so back to my labors.

site stats

I noticed, looking at the statistics for my new website, that my initial reflections on the MVP Final Report have received well over 900 hits in the past two weeks.

I've not heard a great deal of direct feedback, but I do hope that those reflections are helping in the wider denominational process of discernment and understanding and not fanning the flames of controversy.

22 February 2005

fr. luigi giussani

I received an email a little while ago informing me of the death of Fr. Luigi Giussani, the founder of a Roman Catholic movement known as "Communion and Liberation" or CL, for short.

The email read, in part:

Dear Friends, at 3:10 in the morning of the 22nd of February, Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, the Lord called to himself our dearest Fr. Giussani. With certain hope in the resurrection, through the intense sorrow of this detachment, and in the embrace of Christ we recognize him as father more than ever before. He now contemplates the Presence so dear to him of Jesus Christ, whom all his life he taught us to recognize and love as the consistency of all that exists and of all relationships.

Over the years, I've been quite challenged and edified by what I've read of the writings of Fr. Giussani, having reviewed one of his books for re:generation quarterly and having participated in a couple events focused on his vision for Christian education, including a wonderful conference at Georgetown University at which Stanley Hauerwas spoke.

I've also been very much blessed by my interactions with Catholics involved in CL, of which there is an active community here in Philadelphia.

So it is with some sadness that I hear of Fr. Giussani's death, but also joy in being confident that he is in the presence of the Savior whom he loved. May all that is good and true in his life's work continue to benefit God's people and make Christ known.

21 February 2005

mission accomplished

I've finally managed to get all my essays, translations, transcriptions, and other writings transferred from my old website over to the new one. In many cases those texts now appear with some revisions and updating.

So, feel free to go ahead and update your bookmarks and such. I didn't have the time, patience, or inclination to make each and every old URL redirect to the correct new one, so most of them just point to the main "writings" page.

Also, if you find any errors (dead links, blank documents, egregious typos, etc.) please let me know.

20 February 2005

lent 2

Almighty God,
whose most dear Son went not up to joy
but first he suffered pain,
and entered not into glory
before he was crucified:
mercifully grant that we,
walking in the way of the cross,
may find it none other
than the way of life and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

16 February 2005

under the weather

The last few days have been a bit busy and now I seem to have caught the virus that Claire and Laurel both had last week. Thus the paucity of blogging.

On Sunday night our department chairman hosted a dinner at his house for a visiting speaker, John M. Rist, professor emeritus of classics and philosophy from University of Toronto, now living with his wife in Cambridge, England (at least when he's not at his house in Tuscany). It was a very pleasant evening with wonderful food, flowing wine, and good conversation.

Professor Rist is a really remarkable thinker, who seems to easily slide between ancient thought, medieval theology, and modern and postmodern philosophy, analytic as well as continental. He is also quite committedly and transparently Roman Catholic and takes that faith commitment to Christian revelation as integral to his entire philosophical outlook.

Rist's first major contribution, for which he gained recognition, was a groundbreaking book on Plotinus, published in 1965 and his scholarly output has continued apace right up to his recent volume, Real Ethics: Rethinking the Foundations of Morality (Cambridge 2001). In this latter work, he argues for a version of ethics that supposes a version of Platonic realism as a necessary presupposition for the possibility of ethics at all.

The talk Rist gave on campus on Monday was related to this topic and was entitled, "Plato and Modern Philosophy." He went through various misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Plato in modern and postmodern philosophy, sweeping them aside one by one, at the same time arguing that any version of ethics that doesn't assume something like platonism isn't really "ethical" in any morally significant sense. If nothing else, one would take away the point that every ethical theology presupposes an ontology.

The Rists wanted to use a computer on campus to check their emails, so I turned over my office to them. I was also busy Monday trying to test the range of the wireless internet service on campus, since it seems there are spots throughout our building that have no service.

Tuesday I drove Laurel to a doctor's appointment, which ended up occupying the better part of the morning. I've also been busy revising text and fixing the code on various documents as I move them over to my new website, a project that is bound to take a while.

Yesterday when I got home from class I was so exhausted I just laid down for the rest of the afternoon and watched M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, which I hadn't seen. Laurel and I pretty much figured out what was going on partway through the film, so the end didn't hold much surprise, but the premise was intruguing nonetheless. Some students had referred to the movie in connection with our reading about Plato's cave, but since I hadn't seen the film, I wasn't sure what to make of their connection.

Now I think I'll take a rest and do a bit of grading before my 11am class.

13 February 2005

lent 1

Almighty God,
your Son Jesus Christ
fasted forty days in the wilderness,
and was tempted as we are but did not sin.
Give us grace to discipline ourselves
in obedience to your Spirit;
and, as you know our weakness,
so may we know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

11 February 2005

lutheran 1337 t-shirts

Looks like folks are now marketing Lutheranizing t-shirts. In case you haven't seen, there are two.

From the fiesty folks over at Here We Stand we have "Luther at the Marburg Colloquy." And courtesy of the iMonk's crew at BHT we have "Calvin articulates his view of the Supper."

Okay, Reformed folks, your turn. I'm imagining something with "Luther comments on James, '3pis713 0f 5+r4\/\/! LOL!!!111!'"

10 February 2005

lenten reading

Each year Laurel and I try to find a book that we will read aloud during the days of Lent. There are, of course, all kinds of short devotional guides and such available and, some years, we have used ones that seemed to be thoughtful and spiritually sound.

This year we're using a book that I received as a gift several years ago, written by Richard A. Burridge, entitled Faith Odyssey: A Journey through Lent (Eerdmans 2000).

While the book is a series of reflections upon biblical texts, Burridge draws upon various other texts, from classical literature to pop culture, to comment and unfold the Scriptures. Burridge has an special fondness, it seems, for fantasy and science fiction, from Tolkien to Star Trek.

Even though many of these texts might not appear to be "serious" literature, Burridge draws upon them meaningfully in order to, in the words on the back of the book, "illustrate the human journey from the ashes of sorrow to shouts of gladness, from slavery to freedom, from being lost to coming home."

09 February 2005

ash wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God,
you despise nothing you have made
and forgive the sins of all who are penitent.
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts.
Give us grace worthily to lament our sins
and acknowledge our brokenness,
that we may receive from you,
the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

08 February 2005

baptism: theology and practice

That, it turns out, is the title of some talks I'll be giving on March 12th at St. Philip's Reformed Episcopal Church in Warminster, PA. For more information, consult the announcement on the Diocese of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic website.

MVP final report

The Ad Hoc Committee of the Mississippi Valley Presbytery of the PCA--a committee that was convened to study issues of current dispute and discussion--issued its final report on 1 February 2005, a report that was received and approved by the MVP Presbytery.

That report was made available earlier today in PDF form on the website of First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi.

The report consists of [1] a four-page cover letter that includes a list of 17 views they have declared out of confessional bounds, [2] a revised and corrected version of the various precises that I mentioned here a few days ago, and [3] a list of questions that could be used by a Presbytery for the theological examination of candidates for the ministry.

There is much worthwhile reading in the report and its conclusions deserve careful attention. I would even venture that, in general, the 17 views it declares out of confessional bounds, if interpreted charitably and in the correct sense, do point towards the kinds of confessional boundaries that we rightly want to maintain.

Nevertheless, the precise wording of those 17 views, it seems to me, needs further reflection and clarification. In light of that, I've provided some initial thoughts of my own that may, perhaps, help move the conversation forward.

07 February 2005

pca blogs

I've added a link to "PCA Blogs" over in the "Blogs" column to the right. The link will take you to a site that does an aggregation of blogs maintained by folks who are within the Presbyterian Church in America, using XML and RSS feeds.

If you are in the PCA and are interested in joining, go sign up on this post on the Jolly-Blogger's blog.

06 February 2005

huper-krater

I suppose if I cared much about a certain current event and if I were a "name it, claim it" sort of Christian, I'd be quite keen on Isaiah 40:31, "they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as Eagles; they shall run, and not be weary." And, you know, unlike certain folks to the north and east of here, we've been waiting a long time.

epiphany 5

God of light and truth,
open our eyes to the glory of your presence
in the world around us,
but chiefly in the face
of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord;
that we may grow into his likeness,
and attain the happy fulfilment of our hope
when the splendour of the Saviour
will be revealed;
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

05 February 2005

bedell on paedocommunion

I was asked a question in the comments below about paedocommuion and that reminded me of a passage I recently ran across while studying some other matters. It was in the collected works of James Ussher, in a letter written by William Bedell (1571-1642) to an interlocutor on the question of baptism.

Bedell was the Anglican Bishop of Kilmore in Ireland during the time that James Ussher was primate. Bedell translated the Bible into Irish Gaelic along with other texts and reformed the canon law of his diocese so that he exercised primacy in communion with his presbyters as a first among equals, leading some in the Church of Scotland to remark, "If the king will give us such bishops as this, we will beg them upon our knees of him and receive them with all our hearts."

Bedell was strongly Puritan in his outlook and, in correspondence with another Puritan Anglican regarding baptism, he argued that the primary function of sacraments is covenant obsignation and that the absolution offered in infant baptism is only conditional and expectative, awaiting the child to come to faith at a later point. Nevertheless, in expounding his views, Bedell writes:

...you say, "What necessity of baptizng infants if their baptism produce no effect till they come to years of discretion?" Though the most principal effect be not attained presently, the less principal are not to be refused. So children were circumcised, which could not understand the reason of it; and the same also did eat the passover. And so did also children baptized in the primitive Church communicate in the Lord's Supper. Which I know not why it should not be so still, de quo alias...
Later, in discussing the necessity of baptism for salvation, Bedell suggests that if his interlocutor makes baptism of too great necessity for the salvation of infants (on the basis of John 3), then he will also have to do so with regard to the eucharist, in keeping with John 6:

...by this doctrine you must also maintain that children do spiritually eat the flesh of Christ, and drink his blood, if they receive the eucharist, as for divers ages they did, and by the analogy of the passover they may, perhaps ought...And since the use of this sacrament toties quoties must needs confer grace, it seems it were necessary to let them communicate, and the oftener the better, to the intent they might be stronger in grace.
Bedell doesn't agree that the sacrament would in fact confer grace in this way, but he does think that on his interlocutor's assumptions it would make sense for it to do so. Nonetheless, even as a primarily obsignatory rite, Bedell admits that paedocommunion "may, perhaps ought" to be practiced.

Since I didn't know of any Reformed figure, other than Wolfgang Musculus, who spoke favorably of paedocommion, I found Bedell's comments interesting.

(What I quoted can be found in the undated "Letter CLXXII," in The Whole Work of Most Rev. James Ussher, D.D. Lord Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, ed. by C.R. Erlington [Dublin 1864], volume 15, pages 513 and 519).

04 February 2005

futility

It's been a long week and we've not had much time to get out of the house lately and do anything together as a family, in part due to weather and in part due to being busy with various obligations.

So tonight, since it's the beginning of the month, we thought we'd go down to Old City to enjoy the First Friday gallery openings. We've taken Claire before and she really seems to have enjoyed looking at the art, along with the crowds of people, sights, and sounds.

When we had finished up supper tonite we headed downtown only to find that blocks of street parking in Old City have been converted into pricey valet parking spots.

In the past, we usually were able to circle around a bit and find a spot to street park within 15 minutes or so, thereby avoiding the high-priced downtown parking lots. Tonight we circled for nearly an hour, passing space after space of empty spots reserved for valet-parking.

Eventually we gave up, thoroughly frustrated, and drove back near home to Manayunk, so we could at least get out and walk around a bit, enjoy the fresh air, and stretch our legs.

By the time we parked, however, it was nearly 8pm when a number of shops begin to close. We ended up getting kicked out of Pottery Barn, which was trying to shut down for the night, though Claire was very much enjoying exploring the napkin rings.

After a bit more wandering and a brief visit to a music shop, we headed home to put the overly-tired toddler to bed, an hour later than we had anticipated.

It seems that Old City used to be more friendly towards all sorts of people, but now has effectively tried to place itself out of the price-range and convenience of families with kids, instead catering to a younger, hipper crowd of single people with disposable income, as well as the generally more affluent. And that's a disappointing development.

02 February 2005

MVP report

Along with a number of other Presbyteries within the PCA, the Mississippi Valley Presbytery has formed a study committee to look into a set of various issues that are matters of current discussion within Reformed and wider theological circles.

That study committee produced a "preliminary informational report" back in November, which is now available in a footnoted version on the website of First PCA in Jackson, Mississippi. It is fitting for there to be such committees inasmuch as church courts exist, in part, to "resolve questions of doctrine" (BCO 11-4) as part of the church's ministry to "all baptized persons" who by their baptisms "are entitled to the watchful care, instruction and government of the church" (BCO 6-3).

Unfortunately, the committee's document on the FPC site contains some coding glitches with respect to the links between the main text and the notes. Moreover, there are numerous references in the report citing web-based documents, but these references provide no actual links to the documents in question. Both these features of the web version of the report make study of the issues less user-friendly than one might like.

Given that the report is a matter of public record and, as such, is the common property of the members of the church who "are entitled...to instruction," I'm making a more user-friendly version of it available:

MVP Committee Preliminary Informational Report
The links between text and notes are now fully functional and links to cited documents have been added.

You might also discover that some materials that I have written--somewhat to my surprise--show up in the notes of the report. A few comments, therefore, may be in order, despite my general distaste for controversy.

[1] To support the statement that some persons "appeal to the writings of the sixteenth century Reformers in support of their views," the document cites my "Early Scots Reformed on Baptism." I assume the implication here in the report is that such an appeal to 16th century Reformed figures is one-sided and fails to account for later doctrinal developments. Fair enough.

My essay on the Scots Reformed, however, cites not only several 16th century Reformed figures, but it also includes discussion of Robert Boyd of Trochrig and John Forbes of Corse who would both qualify as 17th century. In addition, this essay should be read in the wider context in which much of my interest and study has focused on 17th century figures (Nathaniel Stephens, John Davenant, Cornelius Burgess, etc.), as much as 16th century ones.

[2] To support the claim that "proponents deny the traditional doctrine of the covenant of works," the report cites my essay "The Covenant of Works in the Reformed Tradition."

This, however, is an essay in which I attempt to explain and, in fact, defend the traditional doctrine of the covenant of works over against figures such as Torrance, Shepherd, Kline, and others who, to my mind, perpetuate misrepresentations and distortions regarding the contours of that traditional doctrine. Thus I find the report's citation of my essay a bit confusing.

[3] The report also states, in connection with the same essay of mine, that I "have expressed patent discomfort with the terminology of 'works' in connection with the first covenant."

I find this statement somewhat peculiar given that I consistently use the terminology of "covenant of works" throughout my essay, do so without qualms, and, in fact, defend the use of such terminology against detractors.

[4] The report cites my "Brief Catechesis on Covenant and Baptism" as, it seems, an illustration of the views of those who "understand the doctrine of the sacramental union to mean that the sign and the thing signified invariably accompany one another" in such a way that "baptismal efficacy is affirmed...of every recipient of the sacrament."

If the report means to say that I believe that all the baptized truly receive Christ and all his benefits as those are offered in the sacrament of baptism, then this is not the case. I do not believe that every baptized person receives Christ and all his benefits as those are offered by the sacrament of baptism. Receiving the sacrament, for instance, in hypocrisy and unbelief will not benefit the recipient unless he later comes to faith.

If the report, however, means to say that I believe that what is signified and sealed by the sacrament of baptism is truly offered to all in its administration, then I do, in fact, believe that. But, as far as I can see, this is simply classical Reformed doctrine.

[5] Finally, when the report quotes me saying, "we baptize in order that the one who is baptized be made regenerate," this needs to be taken in context.

Given the manner in which I go on to explicate "regeneration," I thought it was clear enough that I was not using the term "regeneration" in the narrow and technical sense that has come to be linked with effectual calling (and thus would logically precede faith).

Rather I intended to use in term with regard to [1] the ends to which baptism is directed ("regeneration" as mortification of sin and newness of life), [2] what is given sacramentally and conditionally in baptism (rather than what is received absolutely by those who have faith), and [3] the ecclesiastical dimensions of baptism (as a sign of admission among God's visible new-creation people). All of these are, it seems to me, standard Reformed ways of speaking of the sacrament, at least with regard to the Reformed theology of the 16th and 17th centuries with which I am most familiar.

I should also perhaps note that when I wrote in that way, I was speaking in terms of what is ordinarily the case and normatively expected, as one would speak in Christian catechesis to those who profess faith. As such, I do not see how my manner of speaking is different from that of the Apostle Paul when he said to his professing Christian readers, "all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death" (Rom 6:3) or "all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Gal 3:27).

Nevertheless, as I move documents over to my new website, I'll review them for any content that might be confusing in this regard and revise them accordingly, lest my intentions remain unclear.

01 February 2005

website growing

...not exactly by leaps and bounds, but some of the links on my "Historical Documents" page are now live. Unfortunately, a couple documents aren't there yet.

On the other hand, I've added a couple of new documents that weren't on the previous website. In particular:

Nathaniel Stephens on Infant Baptism

Samuel Ward on Infant Baptism

Scottish Baptismal Rite


The Stephens material and the Baptism Rite are items that I've previously blogged. The excerpt from Samuel Ward is entirely new.