December 30, 2002

Ritual & Orthodoxy

Category: Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

As a follow-up to my Piper quotation, here’s something Jeff Meyers wrote:

I am convinced that we have not even begun to think about the massive influence of ritual(s) (especially those that we unthinkingly adopt in our typical evangelical worship services) in Reformed theological circles. We continue to do seminary without professors of Reformed Liturgy. This is amazing. It is ecclesiastical insanity. Our Reformed seminaries graduate men with little or no liturgical competence. We actively teach silly, sentimental pop worship, not realizing that one day we will, because of our pop worship (lex orandi, lex credendi), abandon the orthodox faith (The Lord’s Service, p. 81).

I’m grateful that at Mid-America Reformed Seminary I wasn’t taught silly pop worship. Still, I wish I’d had more training and done more thinking about liturgy in seminary.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:06 am | Discuss (0)
December 29, 2002

Knox and Horton on Baptism

Category: Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

Barb posted this a while ago, but it might be worth posting again. It’s part of John Knox’s 1560 Scots Confession on baptism:

And so we utterly condemn the vanity of those who affirm the sacraments to be nothing else than naked and bare signs. No, we assuredly believe that by Baptism we are engrafted into Christ Jesus, to be made partakers of his righteousness, by which our sins are covered and remitted, and also that in the Supper rightly used, Christ Jesus is so joined with us that he becomes the very nourishment and food of our souls (Ch. 21).

I came across this quotation (again) in an article entitled “Mysteries of God and Means of Grace” in the May/June 1997 issue of Modern Reformation. The article is by Michael Scott Horton. Horton is opposed to the idea that Romans 6, Galatians 3:27, and similar passages refer to some kind of “Spirit baptism” (as opposed to sacramental baptism):

In many conservative Reformed and Presbyterian circles, it is as if the prescribed forms for Baptism and the Supper were too high in their sacramental theology, so the minister feels compelled to counter its strong “means of grace” emphasis. In this way, the Sacraments die the death of a thousand qualifications. The same is true when we read the biblical passages referring to Baptism as “the washing of regeneration” or to the Supper as “the communion of the body and blood of Christ.” Why must we apologize for these passages and attempt to explain them away? Our confessions do not do this. Our liturgical forms (if we still use them) do not do this, but we feel compelled to diminish them these days.We hear quasi-gnostic sentiments even in Reformed circles these days, such as the “real baptism” that is spiritual, as opposed to “merely being sprinkled with water,” or the “real communion” with Christ in moments of private devotion. How can we truly affirm the union of earthly and heavenly realities in the Incarnation? Or how can we regard the Word of God as a means of salvation if it is but ink and paper or human speech? A subtle Docetism (the ancient gnostic heresy that denied Christ’s true humanity) lurks behind our reticence to see these common earthly elements as signs that are linked to the things they signify. Surely the Sacraments can remind us of grace, help us to appreciate grace, and exhort us to walk in grace, but do they actually give us the grace promised in the Gospel? The Reformed and Presbyterian confessions answer “yes” without hesitation: A Sacrament not only consists of the signs (water, bread and wine), but of the things signified (new birth, forgiveness, life everlasting).

Later, Horton comments:

We simply cannot say that we take a literal approach to the text while interpreting these clear passages as allegorical of a spiritual reality detached from the obvious reference to physical sacraments.

At another point in the article, Horton talks about Calvin’s view of infant baptism:

Rather than sharply dividing between an external and internal covenant of grace, as some have done in American theology, Calvin simply concludes that infants “receive now some part of that grace which in a little while they shall enjoy to the full” (Institutes 4.16.19).

And here’s Horton’s summary toward the end of the article:

In Baptism, we have been swept into the new creation and in the Supper we are actually fed with the body and blood of Christ as pilgrims on the way to the Promised Land, and yet, by promise already living there.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:29 pm | Discuss (0)
December 28, 2002

Pastoral Office

Category: Theology - Pastoral :: Permalink

One of the greatest tragedies in the church today is the depreciation of the pastoral office. From seminaries to denominational headquarters, the prevalent mood and theme is managerial, organizational, and psychological. And we think thereby to heighten our professional self-esteem! Hundreds of teachers and leaders put the mastery of the Word first with their lips but by their curriculums, conferences, seminars, and personal example, show that it is not foremost.

One glaring example is the nature of the doctor of ministry programs across the country.

The theory is good: continuing education makes for better ministers. But where can you do a D.Min. in Hebrew language and exegesis? Yet what is more important and more deeply practical for the pastoral office than advancing in Greek and Hebrew exegesis by which we mine God’s treasures?

Why then do hundreds of young and middle-aged pastors devote years of effort to everything but the languages when pursuing continuing education? And why do seminaries not offer incentives and degrees to help pastors maintain the most important pastoral skill — exegesis of the original meaning of Scripture?

No matter what we say about the inerrancy of the Bible, our actions reveal our true convictions about its centrality and power (John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, pp. 84-85).

Posted by John Barach @ 2:17 pm | Discuss (0)
December 27, 2002

Meyers & Witteveen

Category: Miscellaneous :: Permalink

Good news! Jeff Meyers has started blogging! Jeff is one of the pastors of Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) in St. Louis, Missouri, and is the author of a forthcoming book on worship, an earlier edition of which I’ve quoted on this blog. He’s also a doctoral student at Concordia Theological Seminary, where he’s studying the doctrine of the Trinity (the subject of another forthcoming book, I hope). You’ll find some of his papers here. On my recent trip to and from Red Deer, I listened to Jeff’s very helpful talks on apostasy, given at the 1996 Biblical Horizons conference.

As well, a belated welcome to Jim Witteveen. He commented on one of my blog entries, but I didn’t notice until now that he’s started a blog, entitled Cartas de Santiago. Jim is a member of the Canadian Reformed Church in Abbotsford, BC.

Welcome to the world of blogging, Jeff and Jim!

Posted by John Barach @ 9:18 pm | Discuss (0)
December 25, 2002


Category: Miscellaneous :: Permalink

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Posted by John Barach @ 2:31 pm | Discuss (0)
December 24, 2002

Christmas at Home

Category: Updates :: Permalink

For the first time since 1997 (and probably for the last time in many years), I’m spending Christmas with my parents. And for the first time in twelve years, my sister, Charlene, is here, too.

So far, I’ve done a fair bit of reading. I’m part of the way through P. G. Wodehouse’s The Man With Two Left Feet and Other Stories and Gene Wolfe‘s wonderfully titled The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories. No, that’s not a typo. The first story in the book is entitled “The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories.”

Today, Charlene and I went out to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding at the matinee this afternoon. It was the second time I’ve seen it, and I still love it.

After supper, we opened our presents. That’s been a Christmas Eve tradition in our home since we were kids. Later, we watched The Christmas Carol (starring Alastair Sims: is there really any other version?). And now my parents are upstairs, listening to new CDs (so far, we’ve heard Dr. John’s Afterglow, Tony Bennett and k.d. lang’s A Wonderful World and most of Diana Krall‘s Love Scenes, all three gifts to my mother). My father is probably looking through his new book on cars of the ’40s.

Tomorrow, more relaxing, snacking, and reading — for me, at least. My father and sister are going out for a long bicycle ride. And on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas for you Americans!), I’m heading up to Edmonton to join my friends Keith and Jenn. We’re gonna see The Two Towers at the IMAX theatre in the West Edmonton Mall.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:53 pm | Discuss (0)

Upsaid Down

Category: Miscellaneous :: Permalink

Hmmm…. I can’t seem to access any of the blogs hosted by Upsaid — Matt‘s or Tim‘s, for instance. Something has turned Upsaid down!

Posted by John Barach @ 10:30 am | Discuss (0)
December 20, 2002

Fairy Tales

Category: Literature :: Permalink

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten” — G. K. Chesterton, cited as the epigram in Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, a fairly decent (and spooky) children’s fairy tale which I read this afternoon while sitting in Chapters.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:34 pm | Discuss (0)
December 18, 2002


Category: Theology - Christology :: Permalink

George links to this article by Henry Morris (from the Institute for Creation Research) in which Morris claims that God created Jesus’ human nature ex nihilo and then plunked it down in Mary’s womb. Jesus did not receive his human nature in any way from Mary.

I was a little surprised to find that anyone still holds this view. Many of the early Anabaptists also taught this heresy, as Dr. Jelle Faber shows. The Belgic Confession, art. 18, addresses this heresy as it proclaims the good news of Christ’s birth:

We confess, therefore, that God has fulfilled the promise He made to the fathers by the mouth of His holy prophets when, at the time appointed by Him, He sent into the world His own only-begotten and eternal Son, who took the form of a servant and was born in the likeness of men (Phil 2:7). He truly assumed a real human nature with all its infirmities, without sin, for He was conceived in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit and not by the act of a man. He not only assumed human nature as to the body, but also a true human soul, in order that He might be a real man. For since the soul was lost as well as the body, it was necessary that He should assume both to save both.

Contrary to the heresy of the Anabaptists, who deny that Christ assumed human flesh of His mother, we therefore confess that Christ partook of the flesh and blood of the children (Heb. 2:14). He is a fruit of the loins of David (Acts 2:30); born of the seed of David according to the flesh (Rom 1:3); a fruit of the womb of the virgin Mary (Luke 1:42); born of woman (Gal 4:4); a branch of David (Jer 33:15); a shoot from the stump of Jesse (Is 11:1); sprung from the tribe of Judah (Heb 7:14); descended from the Jews according to the flesh (Rom 9:5); of the seed of Abraham, since the Son was concerned with the descendants of Abraham. Therefore He had to be made like His brethren in every respect, yet without sin (Heb 2:16; Heb 4:15).

In this way He is in truth our Immanuel, that is, God with us (Mt 1:23).

Heresy robs us of our Christmas joy! Jesus wasn’t just a humanoid. He wasn’t a human-looking thing with no connection to the human race. He was (and still is) a descendant of Adam and Abraham and David, part of our human family. Only if that is true could he be the kinsman redeemer we need and the Saviour God promised. There’s no redemption without relationship. And so God’s eternal Son took on our human nature from His mother Mary to be Adam’s Son, our brother, and the Saviour who is truly God with us. Joy to the world!

Posted by John Barach @ 1:11 pm | Discuss (0)
December 6, 2002

Leave of Absence

Category: Updates :: Permalink

I’m nearing the end of the first week of my leave of absence, my first week as the former pastor of Trinity Reformed Church (URCNA) in Lethbridge, Alberta, and as the pastor-elect of Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) in Grande Prairie, Alberta. For the last week, I’ve been finishing up some odds and ends. For instance, I’ve sorted through some of my books so that I can get rid of a pile of unwanted or duplicate volumes. I’ve also visited a lot of people here in Lethbridge. And I’ve waited for my house to sell.

Today, I had lunch with a member of the congregation, after which I bought some groceries and went to the post office to ship away some of those unwanted books to friends who did want them. Then I dropped off several years worth of unwanted back issues of magazines at the Mennonite Central Committee store, did some Christmas shopping, checked out some furniture someone bought me at Capital Furniture, and ended up at Chapters, where I read Neil Gaiman’s nicely done short story, “We Can Get Them For You Wholesale.” In the evening, I met a family from the church at The Attic for supper, followed by tea at their place.

And now, when I finish blogging, I’ll head to the living room, where I’ll read a bit more of James P. Blaylock‘s The Elfin Ship, his first novel, from which this line (which Duane Garner could have written):

“‘Time flies like an arrow,’ Grandpa used to say, ‘but fruit flies like bananas'” (p. 210).

Posted by John Barach @ 11:39 pm | Discuss (0)
December 1, 2002

Taming the Tiger

Category: Technology :: Permalink

Last week, I read Witold Rybczynski‘s Taming the Tiger: The Struggle to Control Technology. Rybczynski is an architect, but he’s also a gifted writer and a student of the history of ideas. In other books, he’s written about the origins of the weekend (Waiting for the Weekend), the idea of “home” (Home), building his own house (The Most Beautiful House in the World), and the history of the screwdriver and the screw (One Good Turn, in response to a request to write about the most important tool invented in the last millennium).

I bought Taming the Tiger because it was by Rybczynski, not because I was particularly interested in the topic. The book turned out to be more enjoyable than I expected, however.

Rybczynski examines, evaluates, and questions the arguments of those who believe that technology is a threat to society (e.g., Jacques Ellul). He begins the book by surveying the history of opposition to technology, noting along the way that the Luddites were not so much opposed to the machines themselves as they were to the way the machines were being used. He writes, “‘Man versus machine’ was a convenient explanation, not least because the machine was politically easier to blame than the entire social system” (p. 39).

In a later chapter, Rybczynski reviews several attempts to abandon technology (Kampuchea in the ’70s, Burma, Madagascar in the early 1800s, the American Plains Indians in the late 1800s). He also explores four individuals’ attitudes toward technology: Henry David Thoreau (who, incidentally, rejected technology and then relied on factory products to build his house on Walden Pond), William Morris (who tried to get back to history, and ended up with a movement that produced hand-crafted products only rich people could afford), Walter Gropius (whose Bauhaus movement tried to make art suitable for a machine age, but ended up with sterile ugliness due to a failure to understand technology), and Wally Byam (who invented the Airstream trailer). Unlike many of the European thinkers (and the Bauhaus guys in particular), Byam didn’t use technology “to fashion a new way of life,” but rather “to redefine an old one,” which suggests that there is more than one way to use technology.

Technology opens a door, Rybczynski says, but we don’t necessarily have to walk through it. While we likely can’t simply get rid of the technology, we don’t have to use it in destructive ways or even in the ways it was intended. “The historical record does not support the dour theory of technological inevitability” (165). Some inventions never get used (think of the reluctance of many armies to use chemical weapons). Some get abandoned even though they work fairly well (think of the Zeppelin). The big issue is how we control the technology.

Rybczynski writes:

Technology is controlled in three ways, two of which I have already described: the actual design of the device, which is always an attempt to reduce its unpredictability and the choice of whether or not, or when, to use the machine (p. 195).

What’s the third way? It’s to use the technology in a manner that’s different from the original intention. People can and do control and shape technology. They decide how they’re going to use it.

It is a mistake to look at a Mexican or an Indian bus and say, “Look, they are using our technology,” or, seeing differences in application, to conclude that it is not being used in the “right” way. This attitude betrays the arrogance and short-sightedness of the originator, who fails to understand that although a technology may at one time have been ours, the process of using it, and controlling it, has now made it theirs…. The most important lesson that can be learned from seeing the different emphases that different civilizations attach to technology is that this process is determined as much by the nature of the tool-user as by the nature of the tool (pp. 210-211).

In the end, says Rybczynski, we need to realize that “our technology is a symptom of our culture, not vice versa….[T]echnology is a human activity” (pp. 222-223). It reflects our culture, our interests, our character, our goals.

We sometimes like to think that it’s our technology which forces us to act in certain ways (technological determinism) or shapes our culture in ways we don’t like. We look with nostalgia at the way things were in the past before all the modern technology came along and we bemoan the way that technology has shaped us and made us “modernists” (which appears to be the underlying thrust of much of David Wells’s No Place for Truth, critiqued ably by Peter Leithart).

But is technology really our problem? Or is blaming technology really a convenient excuse to avoid taking responsibility? As Rybczynski says, “[T]he struggle to control technology has all along been a struggle to control ourselves” (p. 227).

Posted by John Barach @ 10:39 pm | Discuss (0)