Here I sit, in the Coeur D’Alene Public Library, checking my e-mail, catching up on blog entries, blogging myself, and occasionally whispering to my wife, who is at the terminal across from mine. A lot has happened in the last couple of weeks.
As you may have noticed in my last entry, I survived the URCNA’s Synod Calgary 2004. I drove one of my elders’ trucks from Grande Prairie to Calgary for the synod, and then on the Saturday after the synod I rented a car and drove to Spokane, where Chip and Janet Lind picked me up and took me to Moscow.
On Sunday, I attended Trinity Reformed Church, where Blake Purcell (from the Reformed Seminary in St. Petersburg, Russia) preached. The service was very moving, not least because it involved the commissioning of Niki Valchev, the Bulgarian Calvin. I got to know Niki in May. He had been in Moscow for a couple of months and was now returning to Bulgaria to continue working toward planting a Bulgarian Reformed church. I wasn’t the only one who got a little misty as Peter Leithart commissioned Niki that Sunday morning.
Moriah arrived in Moscow late that Sunday night (= early Monday morning). We spent most of the next few days together, getting the last things ready for the wedding. (Thanks to the Greenfields for opening their home to us, and to Mrs. Unger and Bethany and others who ran countless errands for us.)
On Wednesday night, I had my bachelor party at Roy and Bev Atwood’s place. Roy provided various smoked meats, Janet Lind made a great potato salad (as well as a bathrobe with a clerical collar), and I had a good time sitting around and talking with Steve and Nathan Phillips, Randy Churchill, Charles Chambers, Alex and Calvin Barendregt, Tim Gallant, Steve Hofstede, Roy Atwood, Dave Nieuwsma, and Chip Lind.
On Thursday evening, we rehearsed. The rehearsal was a bit chaotic (in spite of Moriah’s clear instructions about the order of service). Afterwards, my parents hosted a rehearsal dinner at La Casa Lopez, in downtown Moscow. It was a greatly enjoyable evening, enhanced by an aria sung by one of the servers, the soon-to-be-blogging-again Rijel Glasebrook. (Thanks, Rijel! It was beautiful!)
On Friday, Keith and Jenn Griffioen, who had arrived Thursday night, took me out to wander the mall and relax a bit. In the afternoon, we had our wedding pictures. Mark Lamoreaux did a fantastic job with our engagement photos, and we’re eagerly looking forward to seeing the wedding pictures.
A little after 7:00, I followed Peter Leithart down the aisle, with Tim Gallant, Bill DeJong, Chip Lind, and Keith Griffioen following me. A few minutes later, to the sounds of Handel’s “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba,” played by Matthew Pelcher on the organ and Keith Griffioen and Randy Churchill on trumpet, the bridesmaids (Bethany Unger, Heather Stewart, Sarah Prentice, and Lindsey Leithart) came down the left aisle. Payton Comis (flower girl) and Smith Leithart (ring bearer) came down the centre aisle. And then, “fair as the morn, clear as the sun, terrible as an army with banners” and glorious in candlelight white, came Moriah with her father.
I descended from the platform to receive her from her father, and brought her up to stand with me in front of Peter Leithart. Dan Dillard prayed, Chris Morris read Scripture, and Peter Leithart preached a beautiful sermon.
After the wedding, we headed to the reception at the Logos Gym. Natalie Greenfield and her jazz band, which we called JazzNRG, performed for the first hour. Chip Lind was the MC, and did an excellent job. Moriah and I danced to “The Lover’s Waltz,” performed live by Katie Saunders and Nathan Phillips and eventually some of the members of JazzNRG. I have rarely danced before, but the quick Thursday dance lesson by Mathdaniel Johnson at the Greenfield’s payed off! Matt Dau was the DJ and Moriah and I had a lot of fun dancing.
Shortly before 11:00, we took our leave, to the sound of our guests singing Psalm 128. We drove to Spokane, and now we’re spending our honeymoon in beautiful Coeur D’Alene, which brings me to where I started this entry (and to near the end of my allotted time online). You can read more about our honeymoon on Moriah’s blog. We’re having a wonderful time!
Last week, I took part in the URCNA‘s Synod 2004 in Calgary. Bethel United Reformed Church hosted the synod and did an excellent job of organizing the various aspects of the meeting and providing us with meals. Ron Scheuers, the pastor of the First United Reformed Church in Chino, California, chaired the meeting with wisdom, humour, grace, and appropriate firmness. Bishop Bill, the stated clerk of the federation, is currently working on the minutes. The concept minutes of the synod are available here.
You can read those minutes for yourself, if you’re interested. But here are some items worth noting:
(1) Tacoma, Part I
According to our Church Order, a congregation that wishes to join the federation can be received provisionally by a classis, pending ratification by the next synod. Classis Western Canada 2002 received the Evangelical Reformed Church of Tacoma (pastored by Rich Hamlin) into the URCNA.
Even at that point, however, several people had concerns about this congregation, since it has only one service on a Sunday (our Church Order requires two) and since the congregation has allowed children as young as six to profess their faith in Christ and come to the Table.
Those concerns came up at the synod when it was asked to ratify the decision to admit Tacoma into the federation. Some delegates pointed out that Tacoma was working toward having two services a Sunday, but hadn’t been able to rent their building for a regular second service. The ratification motion was tabled until after the synod dealt with Overture 7, which concerned paedocommunion (and which, therefore, had nothing to do with Tacoma’s situation).
(2) Pre-Advice Committees
In order to facilitate working through all the overtures and appeals and reports, our synods usually divide the body up into several pre-advice committees, each focusing on a particular agenda item (or a particular group of related items). The committees then make recommendations to the general body.
I was supposed to be on the pre-advice committee dealing with Grande Prairie’s appeals, no doubt because whoever made up the list of committee members thought that this committee might want to discuss our appeals with me, but someone protested
and the synod voted to remove me from that committee. In the end, I worked on the committee dealing with ecumenical contact with churches abroad.
The synod decided not to adopt the overtures asking it to state that abortion and homosexuality are contrary to the Scriptures and the Confessions. The synod also did not adopt the overtures regarding creation and animal death before the Fall.
(4) Overture 7: The Three Forms of Unity and Paedocommunion
Overture 7 asked the synod to adopt a statement asserting that the Three Forms of Unity exclude non-professing members from partaking of the Lord’s Supper. The synod adopted a much-amended version of that statement. The final version reads:
The confessions to which the URCNA subscribe (the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort) accurately summarize the teaching of Scripture, for example, 1 Cor. 11:24-25, 28. Thus, our confessions, in harmony with the Scripture, require that the Lord’s Supper be administered only to those who have publicly professed their faith, in the presence of God and His holy church.
The synod also adopted some grounds. You’ll find all this stuff on pages 22-23 of the PDF concept minutes. This decision will doubtless have ramifications for confessional subscription: Given this statement, is someone who believes the confessions don’t require profession of faith for access to the Table still eligible for office in the URCNA?
(5) Tacoma, Part II
As I mentioned above, for some reason, the synod had tabled Tacoma until after it dealt with Overture 7. Again, Tacoma doesn’t practice paedocommunion and so Overture 7 had nothing to do with Tacoma’s situation. Nevertheless, the synod did take up Tacoma at this point, spent some time discussing ratifying the admittance of the congregation to the federation, and finally tabled the matter again until after Appeal # 1 had been dealt with.
(6) Appeal 1: Younger Profession Of Faith
Last year, a member of Covenant Reformed Church in Grande Prairie (the congregation I pastor) appealed against the consistory’s decision to interview a member who was ten years old for public
profession of faith and admittance to the Table. That appeal was sustained by Classis Western Canada Spring 2003. Grande Prairie then appealed to Synod Calgary 2004.
The pre-advice committee recommended sustaining the appeal on procedural grounds (the Church Order doesn’t specify a minimum age for profession of faith), but the synod didn’t sustain the appeal, which means that it told the Grande Prairie elders that we can’t interview anyone ten or younger for profession of faith. This decision conflicts with the Church Order, which doesn’t specify a minimum age for profession of faith and which leaves such decisions in the jurisdiction of the local church’s consistory.
(7) Appeal 2: The Three Forms of Unity and Paedocommunion
Tim Gallant was examined for candidacy in the URCNA at Classis Western Canada 2000 (Lynden). During the exam, he indicated that he didn’t have a position (at the time) one way or the other on paedocommunion and asked whether paedocommunion was within confessional bounds. (He has since concluded that it is.) The classis responded by adopting a statement that the confessions exclude non-professing members from partaking of the Supper.
Grande Prairie (and other congregations) regarded that statement as ad hoc advice given to Tim to help him make a decision about whether he could subscribe to the confessions. Grande Prairie didn’t regard that statement as binding on all officebearers.
Classis Western Canada Spring 2003, however, adopted a statement “clarifying” the status of that 2000 statement and indicating that it was binding on all officebearers, such that in order to be eligible for office (at least in this classical region) one must not only be opposed to paedocommunion but one must also believe that the Three Forms of Unity exclude non-professing members from partaking of the Lord’s Table. In other words, if you believe that the Three Forms of Unity leave room for paedocommunion â€” or if you believe that a man who holds to paedocommunion is eligible for office â€” then you cannot subscribe to the Three Forms and you are not eligible for office.
Grande Prairie appealed this decision. Synod 2004 denied our appeal. The similar Appeal # 3 from Leduc was also denied. On all of these decisions, my elder delegate and I registered our negative votes. Our consistory will therefore have to consider the implications of the synod’s decision and decide how best to respond to it.
(8) Tacoma, Part III
At this point, the Tacoma matter was reopened. After some discussion, someone moved that the synod not make a decision on the matter but table it indefinitely so that it might be dealt with at the next synod, by which time (some thought) Tacoma might be able to have two services on a Sunday and might have changed its practice of admitting such young children to the Table. That motion carried.
I am deeply ashamed of the way this synod dealt with Tacoma. The Tacoma delegates were very gracious, more gracious than many of us would have been, I suspect. In the end, the synod did agree to pay the Tacoma delegates’ lodging and travel expenses.
While several (not all) of the decisions I’ve reported above were discouraging, I was happy with many of the other decisions that the synod made. Again, the chairman did a wonderful job of regulating the tone of the discussions. As one delegate said to me, this may have been the best-chaired synod we’ve had. It was also good to be able to visit with a number of friends, some of whom I haven’t seen for years, and to make new friends, including some on different sides of these debates.
And now I’m in Moscow, Idaho, as is Moriah, getting ready for Friday evening and beyond. Thanks for your prayers!
John Frame’s recent article, “Machen’s Warrior Children,” is worth reading.
“How did Christian theologians … abandon rhetoric?” asks Peter Leithart in “When Theology and Rhetoric Embrace” (alternatively titled “Rhetoric and the Word”), published in the May 2004 issue of First Things. Leithart writes:
The twentieth-century poet W. H. Auden once commented on the absence of rhetoric among theologians. Were a poet to use a phrase such as “mortal sin,” he said, it would be meant as a hyperbolic way of warning people away from certain kinds of behavior. When a theologian uses the phrase, it has a very exact and technical meaning. Theologians are the least rhetorical of writers.
Auden’s observation is undeniably accurate, but when we glance at the literary shape of the Bible, it is difficult to fathom why it should be so. After all, the Bible has no theology that does not have a rhetorical shape and thrust. It is full of stories, laws, rituals, proverbs, psalms, genealogies, visions, and prophecies that often take poetic form. Scripture includes the severe diatribes of Jeremiah, the unutterable beauties of Isaiah and John, the goading wisdom of Solomon, the luminous allusiveness of Genesis and Matthew. The closest that the Bible comes to technical theology is the letters of Paul, but no one can read Galatians, Corinthians, or Paul’s sermons in Acts without realizing that he is a master rhetorician. To be sure, Paul’s rhetoric is not necessarily the rhetoric of pagan Greece or Rome (though scholars are finding that often it is), but he is rhetorical in that he speaks and writes above all to persuade, convict, and change his readers.
From time to time, Doug Wilson has been posting parables on his blog, some (I find) more effective than others. I particularly enjoyed his latest, “Already in Rome.” Come to think of it, “Ah, To Have Been Submissive” is pretty good, too.
The other day, I glanced at the opening paragraph of Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins, subtitled The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World, which I’m contemplating rereading soon. Here’s the opening paragraph:
Now in these dread latter days of the old violent beloved U.S.A. and of the Christ-forgetting Christ-haunted death-dealing Western world I came to myself in a grove of young pines and the question came to me: has it happened at last?
Hmmm…. I said to myself and went and looked at the opening lines of Dante’s Inferno. Here it is in Mark Musaï¿½s translation:
Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
for I had wandered off the straight path.
Or, in Dorothy Sayersï¿½ translation:
Midway this way of life we’re bound upon,
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
where the right road was wholly lost and gone
Is there an echo of Dante’s waking to find himself in a dark wood in Percy’s narrator’) coming to himself in a grove of young pines? Is there perhaps a hint in Percy’s intro that it’s the whole of Western society that has wandered off the straight path?
Perhaps I’m only seeing things. Still, it might be interesting to see if there are other parallels with the Inferno in Love in the Ruins. Unfortunately, I’m not well enough acquainted with Dante to carry out such a study.
Last night, I finished reading John Updike’s The Music School, a collection of his short stories, published in 1967. I particularly enjoyed “A Madman,” “The Bulgarian Poetess,” and “The Family Meadow.” There were several other stories I appreciated and a few that fell flat.
But what struck me about many of these stories, including some that I enjoyed, was that voice in all of them was distinctly Updike’s. I don’t mean that Updike himself necessarily talks the way he tells a story. I mean, rather, that the narratorial voice is almost always the same. Even when we’re supposed to be seeing things through the eyes of a character and even when it’s character in the story who is telling the story, the voice stays pretty much the same. For instance, in the story “The Morning,” not one of my favourites, we have this line:
He realized within himself the intricate scaffolding of mechanical connection and chemical cooperation that upheld his life, and felt is complexity as a terrible tenuousness.
Or this, from “The Hermit,” the final story in the book:
Stanley felt the green and scurvy mass around him as so infinitely divisible that the thickness of a veil was coarse in comparison; Nature, that sturdy net of interlocking rapacity, dissolved for him in its own unsayable exactness, and ceased to exist, or existed merely as the description of something else.
Now perhaps that’s just how Updike’s characters are: they see things that way (even Stanley, who, Updike tells us, dropped out of school in Grade 11). That’s possible. But it sounds more as if we’re viewing things through John Updike‘s eyes, not Stanley’s or any of the other characters’.
And that strikes me as a flaw in these stories. Updike seems to want that kind of language to draw us into the character, to help us feel what he’s feeling. But he doesn’t express it the way the person himself would and that may serve, unintenionally, to distance us from the character and, given the complexity of the language, often to bog us down and distance us from the story. Style is great, but in Updike’s case I wonder if style doesn’t get in the way of story.
Sermons are rarely more tiresome than when they strive for relevance. Drawing from the latest headlines transforms the preacher into a one-man MacLaughlin Group, a Crossfire without the cross though perhaps with some of the fire, and leaves the congregation thinking, “If I wanted Meet the Press, I could have stayed in bed.” I spent some time once searching for the source of the exhortation, “Preach with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.” My search was unsuccessful, which is doubtless just as well, else I might be tempted to follow an uncharitable impulse to construct a contemporary Purgatorio in which the author of that statement was forced to listen, unto ages of ages, to some of the sermons he inspired. â€” Peter Leithart, “Of Preaching and Newspapers.”
Tim pointed out this quotation a while ago, but I thought it worth repeating here. It’s by Herman Hoeksema, who was involved in the formation of the Protestant Reformed Churches. The volume in which this quotation appears was originally published in 1951.
I often wonder whether the practice of our churches not to administer the Lord’s Supper to children before they have reached the age of adolescence is not an error. Surely, long before they reach this age, they are able to discern the Lord’s body. There is, it seems to me, not sufficient reason to withhold from them this sacrament, by which they are nourished with the body and blood of Christ and in which they commemorate Christ’s death, until they have finished the course of catechetical instruction that is required in our churches and are capable of making a complete confession of faith. â€” Herman Hoeksema, The Triple Knowledge: An Exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1971), 2:561.