January 31, 2004

The Congregation’s Amen

Category: Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

The last question in the Heidelberg Catechism, which ends the Catechism’s treatment of the Lord’s Prayer, deals with the significance of the word Amen. As I was preparing for my afternoon sermon in connection with that question, I remembered something I had read back in seminary.

Here are some snippets from Dr. K. Deddens’ book on the liturgy, Where Everything Points to Him. Deddens was the Professor of Diaconology and Ecclesiology at the Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches.

Deddens surveys the use of the word in Num. 5:11-31; Deut. 27:11-26; Neh. 5:13; and 1 Kings 1:36 and writes:

It is important for us to note that the amen does not serve to confirm what the speaker has himself said; rather, it confirms the word of someone else. And it is not uttered by the one who has made the statement in question but by someone who has heard it (p. 155).

Deddens then looks at the Amen as a response to praise:

We also find an Amen at the end of the doxology which closes off the books or sections within the book of Psalms (see Ps. 14:41; 72:19; 89:53; and 106:48). Moreover, Psalm 150 can be regarded as an Amen ending the entire book of Psalms with its five parts. When the praise of the LORD is being sung, the “Amen” can be expected from His congregation by way of response (p. 155).

Next Deddens examines the New Testament use of the word:

In I Corinthians 14:16 it is spoken by the hearers in the congregation: “If you bless with the spirit, how can any one in the position of an outsider say the ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying?” II Corinthians 1:20 also speaks of the congregation’s Amen and says that it is only possible through Christ. And in Revelation 5:14, this word is mentioned as a liturgical response in worship that takes place in heaven (p. 156).In the second place, the word “Amen” is used in the New Testament after prayers, and especially after doxologies (see, for example, Rom. 1:25; 9:5; 11:36; 16:27; Gal. 1:5; Eph. 3:21; Phil. :20; I Tim. 1:17; 6:16; II Tim. 4:18; Heb. 13:21; 1 Pet. 4:11; 5:11; Jude vs. 5; Rev. 1:6; 7:12). The author uses it to indicate that when the congregation hears the praise of God read aloud, she ought to respond with an Amen (p. 157).

Deddens then presents how the word was used in church history:

It is clear from the Old and New Testaments, then, that the Amen was spoken by the congregation as a liturgical word. We also find it being used in this way during the first centuries of the Christian church.Justin Martyr, writing in the second century, tells us that the congregation expressed her agreement at the end of the communion liturgy by way of an Amen. In the Byzantine liturgy and also the liturgy of Jerusalem the people answered with an Amen when the words instituting the Lord’s Supper were read, and the same practice was to be found in North Africa during the time of Augustine (end of the fourth century and beginning of the fifth). The Amen was also used as an expression of agreement after prayers, Scripture reading and sermons. In his commentary on the letter to the Galatians, Jerome, who also lived at about this time, tells us that the Amen resounded through the basilica like a thunderclap!

It is regrettable that the use of the word “Amen” by the congregation came to an end in later centuries. The word as such could still be heard in worship services, but it no longer came from everyone’s mouth; it was only the priest who used this word, and when he did so, it was not by way of acclamation. Moreover, he would usually utter this word in a soft tone of voice.

Just as the congregation had become silent when her songs were taken away, so the same thing happened with her “Amen.” The congregation no longer responded to the Scripture reading, the sermon and the prayers; the priest was the one who uttered the Amen. Only the acts of the priest had value; all that was left for the congregation to do was to listen, and perhaps to add her silent Amen to what she heard (pp. 158-159).

Deddens closes with some recommendations:

A number of leaders in the Reformed community have argued that we should not restrict the Amen to the pulpit but should give it back to the congregation, to be used in connection with praise, prayer, preaching, and the blessing…. In ancient times it was the congregation that spoke or sang the Amen and then she did not need a song to do so by way of paraphrase. A song made up of repeated Amens would be better! And there are other possibilities that could be considered; we should always be open to something new when it comes to forms.But what is needed first of all is reflection on this matter, and a communal conviction that the responsive character of the Amen needs to come to the fore in our worship services, which means that the Amen must come from the mouth not of the minister but of the hearers…. If we would move in such a direction, we would promote the congregation’s activity in worship as she seeks to serve the LORD in a covenantal way! (pp. 159-160).

It is odd, isn’t it, that in so many Reformed churches the congregation is silent, except for singing, while the minister does all the speaking. I’ve been in Reformed churches where the minister alone recites the creed. But, as Deddens insists, that’s not the Reformed way at all. It was the Reformers who insisted on congregational participation. As James Jordan writes:

… the Reformers wanted participation in worship from the whole priesthood of believers. They wrote dialogue liturgies in which the people had many things to say and sing. They had their congregations singing, for instance, the creeds, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. Soon, however, the strength of the Medieval devotional tradition reasserted itself — the “low mass” tradition in which the people only sat and watched and listened, while the minister did everything. This Medieval tradition was the essence of the Puritan view of worship. In worship, the Puritans departed from the desires of the Protestant Reformers. — The Sociology of the Church, p. 29.

Alas, now we have a situation where in many (thankfully, not all) Reformed churches the minister says and does almost everything and the people stay silent — and where people actually think that this is Reformed worship and that the use of regular, memorized liturgical responses is kinda almost Roman Catholic. But … who is closer to the Reformers’ view of worship? A Reformed congregation where only the minister speaks? Or an active, responsive “high liturgy” church?

And then factor in the ancient principle Lex orandi, lex credendi: the law of prayer (worship) is the law of belief. How do these two forms of worship shape our doctrines, not to mention our practice outside of church? I grant that you can go through the motions when it comes to liturgical responses, but you can certainly go through the motions when it comes to sitting silently, too — and probably far more easily, since so little is demanded of you.

But I wonder: What view of God fits with the minister doing everything and the congregation little or nothing? What view of the church? What view of our responsibility? What view of the covenant?

And now we’re back to Deddens’ concern: The Bible teaches that our relationship with God is mutual and that worship is covenantal fellowship with God. That mutual covenantal fellowship demands dialogue. If the congregation stays silent, she is not just un-Reformed; she is unresponsive, and we are not allowed to be unresponsive to God.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:02 pm | Discuss (0)
January 28, 2004

Some Wrinkles in A Wrinkle in Time

Category: Literature :: Permalink

A couple of entries ago, I mentioned that I was reading Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and Sarah asked what I thought about it.

On the whole, it’s a fun book, written, of course, for younger readers but readable for grown-ups too. (Wasn’t it C. S. Lewis who said that was the mark of a good children’s story: You can read it with pleasure when you’re older.)

Looking back, though, I enjoyed the beginning of the story more than the middle and end. The enjoyment had to do with atmosphere as well as with characterization: I liked the sense of mysteries deepening and the characters — Meg, in particular — interested me. But some of the adventures in the middle of the book seemed to be padding; they didn’t deepen the characters or advance the story. The end was predictable and, well, a bit flat.

In my earlier entry, I mentioned that L’Engle’s theology in this book is hardly orthodox. Before I comment on that, let me say that I did appreciate the scene where the children encounter the sorta-angelic beings who are singing a song which, when translated, is a psalm of praise to God. The other times Scripture appeared felt a bit forced, though not inappropriate.

I wasn’t pleased, however, with the scene where the children realize that the great fighters against evil have included Jesus, of course, but also Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Bach, Pasteur, Madame Curie, Einstein, Schweitzer, Gandhi, Buddha, Beethoven, Rembrandt, St. Francis, Euclid, and Copernicus.

That scene is at the heart of what I perceive as one of the biggest weaknesses of the book. The children are shown that their planet is in danger from the (rather unimaginatively named) Black Thing, which appears to be Evil. But … what is evil? In particular, what is this evil which has been fought, not only by Jesus, but also by Einstein, Beethoven, Michelangelo, Pasteur, and others? I grant that science and art are gifts from God and that, through them, He has relieved some of the effects of the fall (e.g., sickness). Perhaps that’s what L’Engle has in mind. But that isn’t particularly clear. The other possible implication — that advances in science are themselves conquests of evil — doesn’t reflect the true nature of evil.

So, too, with the encounter with evil on the planet Camazotz (is that name related to the word “comatose,” I wonder?). Evil there seems to be embodied in IT (again, by the way, an unimaginative name; I refer the reader to Lin Carter’s helpful discussion of the naming of things in Imaginary Worlds). But what exactly is ITs evil?

Well, it seems to be the imposition of uniformity and the eradication of diversity. Fine. I grant that that’s evil. But IT wasn’t completely satisfying as a foe, perhaps (I’m groping to understand my own reactions here) because evil was simply a character-less impersonal external force and those aren’t much fun to defeat (nor is IT actually defeated in the book).

Only when Meg herself responds to someone she loves with bitterness because he has disappointed her do we get a real human being acting evilly — and only then do we really have a truly human complexity and depth. Only then do we have the kind of thing we all struggle with. Otherwise, evil is an impersonal and therefore rather superficial and uninteresting force.

This is the first of L’Engle’s books that I’ve read and I’ll likely go on to read more. Again, I did enjoy the beginning of the book, with its mysteries deepening and its likable characters. Perhaps in subsequent books, L’Engle’s plotting and characterization — and treatment of evil — deepens. And hey, I think I’m a bit of a sucker for this sort of thing. Though I haven’t read Nesbit (surprisingly enough), I did read Edward Eager’s somewhat humorous Nesbit pastiches and I grew up on C. S. Lewis.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:39 pm | Discuss (1)
January 26, 2004

Simeon & Suffering

Category: Theology - Pastoral :: Permalink

Here’s a quotation my father passed on to me recently. It’s from Charles Simeon, who struggled against great opposition in his ministry:

My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ’s sake. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head has surmounted all His suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow Him patiently; we shall soon be partakers of His victory.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:05 pm | Discuss (0)
January 25, 2004

Since You Asked….

Category: Updates :: Permalink

In the comments on the last post, Mike wondered whether the question Moriah said “Yes” to wasn’t “Will you marry me?” but “Should I stop blogging?” Well, no, that wasn’t the question and I haven’t stopped blogging. But the “Yes” did lead to a couple blog-less weeks nevertheless.

Here’s what’s been happening. On January 2, I flew down to Oregon to spend a week with Moriah and her family. That Wednesday, after the whole family had been to see The Return of the King (loved it, including the long endings that bored some reviewers), I kidnapped Moriah. The rest of the family was going to eat at Red Robin, but I took Moriah to Porter’s, an old train station converted into a very nice restaurant, where we had a private booth and where I asked her to marry me.

On January 9, we flew together to Grande Prairie. Moriah stayed at Jamie & Val Soles‘s place, and we spent most of that week together. And then, last Friday, I watched as she walked through security and then out the door to the plane….

Thank you to all of you who have sent us congratulations! Our wedding is scheduled for June 25, 2004, in Moscow, Idaho. Dr. Peter Leithart has agreed to do the service. I’ve updated the stuff in the right hand column on this page. You’ll find our wedding page there, as well as links to various places where we are registered.

Let’s see … what other news can I tell you? I’m currently reading N. T. Wright‘s massive Jesus and the Victory of God, and I’m enjoying it greatly. I recently finished Ray Bradbury’s rather melancholy The Martian Chronicles and now I’m halfway through Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (which is a pretty fun story, though hardly orthodox in its theology).

As for music, Emmylou Harris’s new Stumble Into Grace is good, though not, I think, quite as good as her earlier Red Dirt Girl. Daniel Lanois’s “Falling at Your Feet,” in which Bono joins Lanois in singing praise to God, is excellent; the rest of the album, Shine, hasn’t grabbed me (yet).

The weather? Well, when Moriah was here, it was quite decent for January in Grande Prairie: just a little below freezing. On Thursday morning, we had freezing rain (so much that they cancelled mail delivery), followed by light but persistent snow. That snow continued through last night. On Friday morning, I went out to shovel the driveway but discovered that when you stand on sheer ice and shovel, your feet have no traction. Having wiped out once, I gave up and went in.

Today, it cleared off a bit, giving us glimpses of Grande Prairie’s usual bright blue sky. But the removal of the cloud cover went hand in hand with a drop in temperature. It’s about -35 this evening, and even for us winter-hardened Canadians, that’s cold. We cancelled congregational singing this evening and, though I’ve been invited to join Tym at Alex, Calvin, and Steve‘s place tonight, I think I’ll stay inside where it’s warm, eat some good food (or whatever I can cook), drink some hot tea, wear the sweater my fiancee bought me, read a bit, and then … make a phone call.

Posted by John Barach @ 7:27 pm | Discuss (0)
January 11, 2004

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Category: Updates :: Permalink

She said yes!

Posted by John Barach @ 10:08 pm | Discuss (0)
January 1, 2004

2003 Book List

Category: Literature :: Permalink

Happy new year!

A couple of years ago (yes, my blog just passed its second birthday), I posted a collage of book covers representing the books I had enjoyed the most during 2001. I didn’t provide such a list for 2002, but I thought I would this year (sorry, no collage: it takes too long to load). So here’s the list for 2003:

* Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
* Carl Braaten & Robert W. Jenson, The Catholicity of the Reformation
* John Buchan, Salute to Adventurers
* Dale Ralph Davis, Looking on the Heart: Expositions of 1 Samuel 1-14
* Dale Ralph Davis, Looking on the Heart: Expositions of 1 Samuel 15-21)
* Dale Ralph Davis, Out of Every Adversity: 2 Samuel
* Jean Danielou, From Shadows to Reality: Studies in the Biblical Typology of the Fathers
* James Herriot, The Lord God Made Them All
* Thomas Howard, Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament
* James B. Jordan, Primeval Saints: Studies in the Patriarchs of Genesis
* James B. Jordan, The Sociology of the Church: Essays in Reconstruction
* James B. Jordan, Theses on Worship: Notes Toward the Reformation of Worship
* Fergus Kerr, Theology After Wittgenstein
* Philip Lee, Against the Protestant Gnostics
* Peter Leithart, Against Christianity
* Bret Lott, A Dream of Old Leaves
* Walker Percy, The Last Gentleman
* Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, The Fruit of Lips or Why Four Gospels
* Ralph Smith, The Eternal Covenant: How the Trinity Reshapes Covenant Theology
* Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers
* Nigel Tranter, The Bruce Trilogy: The Steps to the Empty Throne, The Path of the Hero King, The Price of the King’s Peace
* Anne Tyler, If Morning Ever Comes
* John Updike, Of the Farm
* Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy
* Steve Wilkins, Face to Face: Meditations on Friendship and Hospitality
* Charles Williams, War in Heaven
* Gene Wolfe, Soldier of the Mist
* Gene Wolfe, Soldier of Arete
* Gene Wolfe, There Are Doors
* N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God

And now I need to eat something and sleep. I didn’t get to bed last night (ahem, this morning) until 3:30.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:32 pm | Discuss (0)