The Contemporary Worship Wagon, pt.2

Inspired by the critical efforts of Jonathan Aigner, we recently began a series on popular contemporary Christian worship songs, comparing them with more traditional work and seeing how and whether they measure up to the standard set by examples of earlier Christian art, namely music and poetry (though focusing more on the poetry aspect–I’m no expert in music.  I’m just a lowly tuba player). In the first post we looked at ‘Our God,’ which was followed by a discussion on Psalm 29. We continue this series by looking now at ‘One Thing Remains,’ and then at a traditional hymn, both of which purport to be about the love of God.

Before I begin, I want to note that two different lists of CCM songs that, according to the authors, need to be mixed, have only two songs in common, and this is one of them!  For those of you who are interested, I’m linking to these lists here & here, and will include the lists (but not the authors’ respective rationales) at the bottom of the post.

On ‘One Thing Remains,’ the first list author Corrie Mitchell writes, ‘It’s not necessarily that there’s anything wrong with this song, but it provides so little in the way of theological depth. It’s not that every song should spell out the gospel in its entirety, but there’s something irksome about songs that seem intended to make us feel, to simply incite that euphoric worship experience, that spiritual high. It almost seems cheap . . . or fake.’

In the second list, Aigner writes of the same song, ‘That “Jesus-Is-My-Girlfriend” label is often unfair criticism, but in this song, it holds. There’s no mention of Jesus or any other member of the Trinity. We’re just left with a couple phrases that might be part of our sacred jargon (“power of the grave,” “debt is paid”). Just who are we talking about? There is a time for repetition, and we’re often reminded of the examples of the psalmist in Psalm 100 and Psalm 150. But this doesn’t seem like good repetition. It’s not part of a rich litany. It doesn’t seem to have a didactic function (Remember – Unlike the Carly Simon classic, we still don’t know who this song is about!). It seems like it repeats the same thing over and over again because the lyricist literally had nothing else to say. And so we ride a wave of “Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out” until the end.’

Let’s take our own closer look at the text.

‘One Thing Remain’s (Johnson, Gifford, Riddle)

NB: verses/refrains marked by symbols so as to render more easily the order in which the lyrics are sung in the sample video.

*Higher than the mountains that I face

Stronger than the power of the grave

Constant through the trial and the change

One thing remains

One thing remains

**Your love never fails it never gives up it never runs out on me X3

^On and on and on and on it goes

It overwhelms and satisfies my soul

And I never ever have to be afraid

One thing remains

^^In death and in life I’m confident and covered by the power of your great love

My debt is paid there’s nothing that can separate my heart from your great love

When I first did an internet search for the lyrics to this song, a Jesus Culture album feature popped up on the right side of the screen, with track listings. This song’s duration was a whopping 8 minutes, 37 seconds. Fortunately for me, the Youtube videos run about 5 minutes long. Given the unstructured nature of the text, and the fact that it doesn’t seem feasible that singing it through once would take even the lower estimate of 5 minutes, there must be some repeats in there; we’ll look at one of the posted Youtube lyrics videos and see what happens…

As I listened to the above-linked video, I took note of which sections were sung, in what order, and how many times, along with some points of style: *, **, instrumental, ^ (rocky), **, instrumental/percussion, ^^, **, (then there’s some apparent improv—words here are not in the listed lyrics), ^; it ends with one of the singers calling out, ‘Your grace never fails’.

The melody is inconsistent…and aimless. Without all the instrumental support, how could a congregation possibly sing this?

But let’s get right to the meat of things: the first three lines, at least, are related to each other in terms of structure. There’s an adjective, twice in a comparative form, and something to which the ‘one thing’ is compared. I’m not sure what the mountains are supposed to be, since it’s the opening line and one can’t be certain if the obstacle is literal or figurative.  Also, the poetry is not exactly my favorite, but these three lines together do have more going for them than anything in ‘Our God’.

More puzzling is the titular line, ‘One thing remains.’ This has a 1 Cor.13:13 ring to it, especially with the well-known NIV translation, which uses ‘remain’ rather than, say ‘abide’: ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’ Nice—I will assume for the purpose of our discussion that this verse is the inspiration for the title & theme of the song. Scriptural basis is good.

BUT. First—it seems strange to take inspiration from the first part of the verse, using the word ‘remains,’ only to ignore the other two virtues in favor of skipping to the second part which is not articulated in the text of the song. The close of verse 13 use the superlative form of the adjective for love, but without anything to which to compare love (such as faith and hope), it of course makes sense that there would be no declaration of love as ‘the greatest.’ ‘One thing remains’ is rather an incomplete picture.

Second, Paul in the preceding verses of 1 Cor. 13 has been discussing love in the church, the love of Christians for other Christians. This follows a comparison of love to spiritual gifts in vv.1-3. Of course, the church’s love flows from the outworking of the Holy Spirit, and without the love of God for His people, there is no love between His people. But the contemporary song uses this phrase to refer to God’s love (well, ish–God is never actually mentioned; see Aigner’s commentary on this point), which not only turns the meaning of the scripture reference; it also goes further than most songs in terms of limiting focus on few or one of God’s attributes. ‘One thing remains’ doesn’t just concentrate on God’s love—implicit in this line is a focus on God’s love to the exclusion of all else. As Dr. James White has pointed out in his podcast, the four creatures around the throne in Revelation 4 are not declaring, ‘Love, love, love!’

While the theme is God’s love, so far introduced by ‘one thing remains’ at the end of *, and confirmed in **, we do not sing about what God’s love means, that is, what He has done or how He has demonstrated His love. Rather, the praise of God’s love focuses on the experiential—it never fails (another reference to 1 Cor. 13?), it never ‘runs out on me.’ The singer’s experience of this amorphous love continues in ^. The first line of ^ doesn’t say much. Is God’s love a leaky faucet, or a talking doll with a design flaw? The next two lines about overwhelming and satisfying of one’s soul, and the lack of fear, again hint at the emotional and spiritual impact of God’s love. But there is no substance, no specific reference to the ultimate act of divine love—Christ’s work on the cross. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that here God’s love acts as an upper, or a timely hot shower.

Our closing lines come nearest to a declaration of gospel love. In the first line, however, the singer is still the subject; not wrong in itself, as plenty of psalms and hymns discuss the singer’s experience of God’s redemptive work and presence. But this song again hasn’t actually talked about why God’s love is so great, and most of it has been about ‘me.’ We have to wait until the very end for any direct mention of the atonement that realizes God’s love for sinners:

My debt is paid there’s nothing that can separate my heart from your great love.

It’s a shame we didn’t start with that debt and its payment. That would have given us reason to rejoice. That would have given us a love we can think about, as well as sing about.

The last thing worth noting is the phrase ‘separate my heart’. It is a bit reminiscent of pop sentimentality, but it’s not a crime. Still, why not just ‘separate me?’

For a brief comparison, let’s take a look at a traditional hymn that also takes as its theme God’s love, stanza by stanza. Forgive the quick and dirty analysis but an amateur: Wesley’s quality of poetry deserves much better.

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling—C. Wesley

1 Love divine, all loves excelling,

joy of heaven, to earth come down,

fix in us thy humble dwelling,

all thy faithful mercies crown.

Jesus, thou art all compassion,

pure, unbounded love thou art;

visit us with thy salvation;

enter every trembling heart.

The song begins with its title (a notable difference between many contemporary songs and many traditional hymns), with the subject of its verbs always Jesus, with the singing congregation (plural rather than singular) as the object of Christ’s love and work. His act of love, his incarnation, is hinted at in the opening lines, and his saving act in justification by the Holy Spirit closes the stanza.

2 Breathe, oh, breathe thy loving Spirit

into every troubled breast;

let us all in thee inherit;

let us find the promised rest.

Take away the love of sinning;

Alpha and Omega be;

end of faith, as its beginning,

set our hearts at liberty.

The loving Holy Spirit’s work of justification is then picked up and developed in this stanza. Lines 3 & 4 note the end of that work, with line 4’s ‘promised rest’ an answer to line 2’s ‘troubled’. The more immediate effect is in line 5, the fatal love of sinning contrasted with the life-giving love imparted by the Spirit. The new love now in its place puts Christ on the throne, and the 6th and 7th lines are packed with theology: faith in Christ makes him the final reward and its object, but he is also its author, faith’s end as well as its beginning. Finally, salvation’s supplanting of love of sin also frees us from the slavery to sin.

3 Come, Almighty, to deliver,

let us all thy life receive;

suddenly return, and never,

nevermore thy temples leave.

Thee we would be always blessing,

serve thee as thy hosts above,

pray and praise thee without ceasing,

glory in thy perfect love.

This third stanza appears to be a prayer for the Lord’s presence among His people now. Not only do the singers request the Almighty’s visitation to save and give life, but also to remain, with the biblical image of the believers as temples. In response, His people commit to blessing the Lord, emulating the praise of angels, and obedient to Paul’s command to pray [and praise] without ceasing. Finally, God’s love is perfect—already described in the previous lines—and inspires the saints to glory in it.

4 Finish, then, thy new creation;

pure and spotless let us be;

let us see thy great salvation

perfectly restored in thee:

changed from glory into glory,

till in heaven we take our place,

till we cast our crowns before thee,

lost in wonder, love and praise.

The last stanza is a prayer for completion of God’s loving redemptive work, the resurrection of the dead and the new creation. Every line is derived from scripture, and each is specific in the truth it communicates. It creates a crescendo from the prayer for ultimate restoration, to the saints’ opportunity to acknowledge its fulfilment. In the presence of the Lord the saints’ symbol of their glorification is cast as tribute before their king, and love, mentioned once in each stanza and thus traceable through the whole of the hymn, characterizes the moment, along with its effect—wonder and praise.

We’ll take stock of each time the word ‘love’ or a permutation of it is used:

Stanza 1: Jesus is love divine, all loves, excelling, pure and unbounded.

Stanza 2: the loving Spirit takes away the saints’ love of sinning

Stanza 3: in service and praise the saints would ‘glory’ in the perfect love of God.

Stanza 4: the saints glorified in heaven are lost in love

We can sum up by saying just a few more things.  One big plus of Wesley’s effort is that it is clearly Trinitarian.  As we mentioned above, no person of the Godhead, not even the word ‘God,’ is mentioned in ‘One Thing Remains.’  Also, as in the CC song, love is clearly the theme of ‘Love Divine,’ but in the latter it is given definition–it is explored in its many aspects, and is even  made to exclude certain things: godly love is differentiated from other types of love, for example the sinner’s for his sin.  Also, its effect on the recipients of Christ’s love is much more powerful and provocative than that in ‘One Thing Remains,’ for its effect is demonstrated in the saints’ response, in their actions, rather than in their feelings. These saints, the singers, also look forward in stanza 4 to the future partaking of divine love in the perfection of glory. They will be lost in love because all God’s promises to His people have been fulfilled and His redemptive plan has been completed. This contrasts with the very present (in-my -life-now) focus of the contemporary song, where the permanence or forward-looking aspect is only found in the declaration of the singer’s inner conviction: And I never ever have to be afraid…I’m confident and covered by the power of your great love…there’s nothing that can separate my heart from your great love.

I don’t think I have to continue droning on about the differences between the two.  Point goes to Charles Wesley.

Next in the series: ‘Forever Reign.’

Mitchell’s list: ‘Let’s Stop Singing These 10 Worship Songs’ (I’ve *ed those I haven’t heard of before; this list is from January 2015.)

1.In the Secret [author’s note: I’ve always found this song a little creepy]

2. Draw Me Close

3. At Your Name (Yahweh, Yahweh)*

4. Lord, I Lift Your Name on High

5. Above All (author’s note: have always loathed this song because of the line ‘you took the fall’, which is completely out of place in an otherwise elegant register of poetry)

6. Burn for You*

7. One Thing Remains

8. Jesus, We Celebrate Your Victory*

9. You are Mine*

10. How He Loves*

Aigner’s list: ’10 Worship Songs We Should Stop Singing’ (many of these I would also be unfamiliar with had I not listened to/read them after initially coming across Aigner’s comparison essay from April 2016; this list is from February 2016)

10. Blessed Be Your Name

9. As the Deer

8. One Thing Remainds

7. Oceans

6. Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)

5. How He Loves

4. How Great is Our God

3. Our God

2. Victory in Jesus

1. Revelation Song

Jumping off the Contemporary Worship Wagon, pt.1

(The word ‘band’ purposefully omitted to circumvent accusations of punnyness.)

This past Saturday, the man and I devoted over an hour to personal enrichment via research.  This research took the form of subjecting ourselves to aesthetic torture by listening to contemporary Christian ‘worship’ songs with which we were unfamiliar.  We were curious about these songs because they were featured in a recent article presented by Chritsian commentator Jonathan Aigner.  Aigner in his columns often focuses on different aspects of worship in American Evangelicalism, with topics ranging from churches’ incorporation of secular holidays into their liturgies to the performance-oriented nature of megachurch ‘worship’.  In this particular piece, he compares and contrasts a list of traditional hymns to that of an equal number of popular contemporary Christian so-called worship songs, discussing the differences between the two categories in several different aspects, including authorship, musical style (including accessibility/appropriateness for congregational singing), poetic structure, and theological soundness, to which didactic value is also linked.

The article was published late in April of this year, 2016.  Aigner, for reasons unexplained, chose to compare the top 13 hymns (he describes how he chose those he did in the text) to the top 13 ‘Contemporary Songs’ from September 2014, as listed by CCLI.  The table provided in his article (posted on Patheos) is pasted below.  The numbering errors are from the original.

 

 Hymns Date Contemporary Songs  Date
  1. Abide with me: fast falls the eventide (Lyte)
  1847
  1. 10,000 Reasons (Myrin, Redman)
  2012
  1. All hail the power of Jesus’ name (Perronet)
  1779
  1. Our God (Tomlin, Reeves, Myrin, Redman)
  2010
  1. Come, ye thankful people, come (Alford)
  1844
  1. One Thing Remains (Johnson, Gifford, Riddle)
  2010
  1. Crown him with many crowns (Bridges)
  1851
  1. Forever Reign (Ingram, Morgan)
  2010
  1. Glorious things of thee are spoken (Newton)
  1779
  1. How Great Is Our God (Tomlin, Cash, Reeves)
  2004
  1. Guide me, O thou great Jehovah (Williams)
  1745
  1. Cornerstone (Mote, Liljero, Myrin, Morgan, Bradbury)
  2012
  1. Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty (Heber)
  1826
  1. Mighty To Save (Fielding, Morgan)
  2006
  1. How firm a foundation, ye saints (Keene)
  1787
  1. Lord I Need You (Nockels, Carson, Reeves, Stanfill, Maher)
  2011
  1. In the cross of Christ I glory (Bowring)
  1825
  1. Revelation Song (Riddle)
  2006
  1. Jesus shall reign where’er the sun (Watts)
  1719
  1. Oceans (Where My Feet My Fail) (Houston, Crocker, Ligthelm)
  2013
  1. Love divine, all loves excelling (Wesley)
  1747
  1. Blessed Be Your Name (Redman, Redman)
  2002
  1. O sacred Head, now wounded (Bernard of Clairvaux)
12th C
  1. Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) (Tomlin, Newton, Giglio)
  2006
  1. When I survey the wondrous cross (Watts)
  1707
  1. Here I Am To Worship (Hughes)
  2001

Had Aigner chosen a 2016 list, the sample would have been more current.  It also would have included ‘In Christ Alone’ (2001), a beacon of hope amidst the tripe, and one still so close to the top in spite of its ‘age’.  Others now in the top 13 (CCLI’s top songs in the US as of the writing of this post) include: ‘This is Amazing Grace’ (Riddle, Farro & Wickham, 2012), ‘Holy Spirit’ (Torwalt & Torwalt 2011).  The three that have fallen from the list since 2014 are: ‘Here I am to Worship’ (fallen to #20), ‘Forever Reign’ (fallen to #14), and ‘Blessed be Your Name’ (fallen to #15).  So, those three still hover near the top.

Because we were reading Aigner’s article, we looked closely at the list and noted to each other how many of them we hadn’t heard (of).  It’s been a few years since we attended a church where contemporary songs are part of the worship, but even then, those churches that did so favoured contemporary hymns, or traditional hymns set to contemporary music (such as those adapted by Reformed University Fellowship) over those of the class called worship or praise songs.  We expected that had something to do with why we were unfamiliar with just over half the list: ‘Our God’; ‘One Thing Remains’; ‘Forever Reign’; ‘Cornerstone’; ‘Lord I Need You’; ‘Revelation Song’; & ‘Oceans’.  We decided to find out what we were missing.

More than once, as we went through the Youtube videos, I remarked, ‘Didn’t we just hear this?’  Setting strict melody aside (since you usually can’t see the printed music anyway), stylistically, these songs are all played, sung, and performed the same way, even if the ‘artists’ are different people.  But since I am no student of popular music, I’ll also set aside the annoying musical sameness of this group of praise-mill products and instead focus on the lyrics.  We’ll move through them in no particular order, touching on 2 to 3 per post.

  1. Cornerstone

The contribution of the song ‘Cornerstone’ on any level is negligible.  As near as we can tell, it is a treatment of ‘My Hope is Built on Nothing Less’ with a (pointless?) Hillsongesque chorus, which consists of ‘Christ alone, cornerstone/ weak made strong through the Savior’s love/ through the storm he is Lord/ Lord of all.’  Why the original is no longer ‘relevant’ or good enough… who knows, especially since the metaphor is consistent throughout the original refrain: ‘On Christ the solid rock I stand/ all other ground is sinking sand, / all other ground is sinking sand’.  Jesus is both the cornerstone on which the church is built, and a rock of refuge in a storm, but–does the author of this chorus realize the metaphors are being mixed without the image of either being completed?  Ah well, not much more to say on that.

2. Our God (Lyrics here.)

What can be said of this song can be said of many of them: it is inane and repetitive.  Inane?  Why?  Doesn’t it say true things about God?  Well, yes, God is the Healer, the Great Physician; Jesus did open the eyes of the blind, and he did turn water into wine.  But given the fact that the song opens with these mentions of miracles (we’ll assume, since the two things are next to each other, that it is the giving of physical as well as spiritual sight, since the wine reference is obviously to the wedding at Cana), and that such specific illustrations are then forgotten for the rest of the song, the miracles may have been chosen for the convenience of rhyme.  For if the author wanted to focus on the significance of the events or ideas, they would have been further developed, or if he wanted to focus on Christ’s earthly ministry and/or ways in which he proved he was the Messiah, we would have expected more reference to his ministry, either in miracles, or in a segue from miracles to his teaching.

Instead, after the first iteration of ‘There’s no one like you/none like you’, we get this: ‘Into the darkness You shine/ Out of the ashes we rise.’  Wait, what?  If we were reading this in any other context than a worship service, say, with our brains plugged in and our thinking caps on, we’d think, Wait, were we just incinerated with a divine thunderbolt, and then reanimated or something, kind of like baby Dionysius being taken out of the cinders of the Zeus-torched Semele and stitched into his father’s leg?  What’s the connection between these two ideas (Jesus shining into darkness/Us rising out of ashes)?   Forgive me, but where’s the logic?  Were these two images chosen for rhyme value, for ‘visual’ impact, or both?  One is biblical; the other, well, I’m not quite clear on that–sounds more like a Phoenix than a Christian.

Though the lyrics as printed make the song appear long, it isn’t.  And for all the refrains, there are no more mentions of specific aspects either of Jesus’ ministry, where we began, or of facets of God’s character, which might be expected given the song’s title.  In the end, there isn’t much worth repeating.  Instead, what we might call refrain 1 is the following:

Our God is greater, our God is stronger
God You are higher than any other
Our God is Healer, awesome in power
Our God, Our God

So what’s wrong with it?  Yes, God is mighty–the Psalms tell us this many times and in many ways.  But what started with concrete images–like water becoming wine–has now settled on dull declarations of truths with no exploration or illustration of those truths.  The mind is not permitted to dwell one any of the several components, as the song keeps tossing out a new (but unimaginative) adjective at every phrase, pointing at yet another thing about God.  There is no means offered with which the singer can contemplate God’s greatness, His strength, His majesty, His mercy.  We still don’t get much on His character–the closest is the title ‘Healer’, but again, it is not ‘camped on’, and is the only term of its kind; such uniqueness can make something stand out, but it can also make it seem out of place, as if it were an afterthought.  We won’t dwell here on the awkward shift of person in the second line; Aigner already discusses this in his article.  Instead, we’ll compare the above with this:

Psalm 29 (A Psalm of David.)

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord, over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
    the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
    and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth
    and strips the forests bare,
    and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
    May the Lord bless his people with peace!

I chose this psalm because, while it is not very long, it features several instances of repetition, and has a similar focus to that of ‘Our God’. 

I do not specialize in Hebrew poetry, so any analysis of the language and structure of the psalm by me must be based on the English translation.  Here, as in our contemporary song, we have repeated phrases, such as ‘Ascribe to the Lord,’ ‘The voice of the Lord,’ and the two closing couplets’ opening phrases, ‘The Lord sits enthroned,’ and ‘May the Lord.’

Refrain 1, again,

Our God is greater, our God is stronger
God You are higher than any other
Our God is Healer, awesome in power
Our God, Our God

is sung a total of 5 times according to the online printing of the lyrics.

Instead of choosing any one of the repeated phrases to create a motif, which is then developed through a series of different images, the same set of disconnected (even disembodied) phrases is repeated as a chunk of information over and over again. This is quite different from the effect of repetition in the psalm, as seen in its varied illustrations about the voice of the Lord.

The focus on the Lord’s voice is an expounding of the first few lines about His glory, power, and splendor. As the psalm opens declaring several things about God, the motif of His voice is employed in a series of images which explore these different aspects through one manifestation of His power. His voice ‘thunders over the waters,’ v.3, which calls to mind the early verses of Genesis—God’s voice is representative of His creative power, and also represents His authorship of history. After this, the psalmist pulls back to make another general declaration about the nature of His voice in v.4.

The physical effects of His voice are then brought ‘closer to home’, as it is likened perhaps to strong winds, breaking the renowned trees of a neighboring, ‘real’ country which is mentioned by name in v.5. This grounding in geographical reality is further expanded in the next verse, where the mention of the Lord’s voice is dropped, and Lebanon are Sirion are animalized. The mode of animalization is both evocative and endearing. The nations are compared to vulnerable but evidently secure and playful young livestock. The argument of the power of God over creation, historic and present, narrows here, pointing to God’s power over all life, and particularly His sustaining of young life, His glory seen in the young animals’ exuberance and simple joy.

The next verse, v.7, again pulls back to more supernatural, indeed celestial and holiness imagery, reminding the hearer/singer of the awe-inspiring power of the voice of the Lord, a striking contrast to the homey images of the playful calves.

The shaking of the wilderness in v.8 is a twist on the ‘power over creation/nature’ argument of v.5, reminiscent of the effect of an earthquake, which is a fitting complement to v.5’s wind parallel. It is also a clear reminder of the fittingness of fear of the Lord, since both the breaking of trees and shaking of the earth signal the potentially destructive power of the Lord exercised in response to sin. ‘Shakes the wilderness’ is repeated in the second half of v.8, but that line introduces new information, specifying that it is the wilderness of Kadesh, again giving the metaphor geographical reality and relevance.

Verse 9 directly juxtaposes the fearful might of the Lord with His life-giving providence, this time asserting His sovereignty over the birth of wild animals (the calf in v.5 is domesticated, and the wild ox is still nearer to domesticated livestock than is the deer), and then His power to destroy in the image of the forests stripped bare by His voice. The proper response of His people to this power follows the image pair: ‘in his temple all cry, “Glory!”’

The psalm closes with the two couplets, each of which features its own repeated opener. Verse 10 returns to the opening of the psalm, and to the first image of His voice: ‘The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;/ the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.’ The repeated half-line is used to declare twinned aspects of the Lords’ rulership, first as creator (bringing us again to Genesis, and after the winds and earth of vv.5,8, & 9b, back to water—He created and delineated the elements), and as a personal being (a king) in relationship to humans, particularly to His covenant people.

The closing verse is a short prayer to the One who has been thus described, a proper response to the declarations of His glory, and in an appropriate place given that the last verse has shifted the focus from His general sovereignty to His position relative to people. It is right to appeal to Him, first to ask His favor and imparting of strength, in keeping with the psalm’s many iterations of the power of His voice, and for His blessing in peace. This request for peace is short and simple, but in the context of the psalm, may pack a great deal of meaning. The blessing of peace has already been imagined in the comparison of Lebanon and Sirion to the calf and young wild ox, for which God provides life and safety. Furthermore, peace contrasts with the depictions of divine destruction throughout the psalm, though one is also reminded of the instability of nature generally, whether as a means of punishment of a specific sin or as a symptom of the Fall. Peace is both protection from the elements over which God holds ultimate mastery, and implicitly, help from God to walk in His ways, and to remain in right relationship with Him as holy king.

All this in just 11 verses!

To return to ‘Our God’… Refrain 2 is:

And if Our God is for us, then who could ever stop us
And if our God is with us, then what can stand against?

This is sung 4 times, with the tag ‘Then what can stand against?’ also sung 3 or 4 times as a tag. Or something. Very little has been said about the character of this God, or His action on behalf of His people, throughout the whole of the song. Presumably His shining into the darkness has something to do with our rising from the ashes, but this is never made explicit. Romans 8:31b is likely behind this passage (ah, if only the rest of the song had such inspiration). Though of course the phrasing in the first line of refrain 2 is not original to Romans, so it begs the question: stop us from doing what? Preaching the gospel? Living according the Word of God? Singing this song?

Finally, the last line is practically lifted wholesale from the Scripture, which would be great—except that it’s poor English. Why would anyone end a line, particularly one repeated several times, with the preposition ‘against’ and without its object?  I assume this is the rhythm dictating the lyrics, and the lyricist(s) didn’t know how to rephrase the thought so as to make it less awkward. I suppose, however, that since the object is ‘us’, previously stated in the first clause, we can mentally supply it, as we would in similar contexts. But (and this I admit is subjective), in common usage, I would argue that we wouldn’t end a question with ‘against,’ implied or supplied direct object notwithstanding. And—what would be the reason for skipping or cutting ‘us’? Avoiding unnecessary repetition is evidently not an interest here. Finally, in the repeated second half of the line, the persons –both ‘God’ and ‘us’—are done away with altogether: ‘Then what can stand against?’ That’s at least seven times that a line ends with a rather ‘negative’ hanging preposition. Grim.

Now, I will close this post by addressing question which may arise after one reads this post:

Am I saying that we should only sing psalms?  Well, that isn’t a crazy proposal, and obviously there are churches out that there that subscribe to exclusive psalmody.  I do not.  My point in comparing ‘Our God’ to a psalm was to show how a short song with almost constant repetition of words or phrases can have such without being annoying or trite, can contain a lot of truth, and draw our attention to different facets of the truth, teaching us and inspiring us with awe and thanksgiving.  In later posts, I will compare contemporary worship songs to traditional as well as contemporary ‘hymns,’ and even to other contemporary worship songs which perhaps have more aesthetic merit and indeed more didactic value.

Stay tuned–more to come!

Next in this series: ‘One Thing Remains’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pithy’s Corner

From our co-contributor:

A fill-in-the-blank section, where you get to play Maury (just pretend you’re at the local laundromat and network TV is tuned to Fox):

When it comes to [age] [name of child], [name of potential parent] you ARE [NOT] the father!

Some samples from contributors:

When it comes to 6-month-old DeLusion, A.–you ARE the father!

When it comes to 8-month-old Enablement, 22–you ARE the father!

When it comes to 18-month-old Charity, 13–you ARE NOT the father!

Put your contribution in a comment, and Pithy may post it here for all to admire.

Logic and other lessons from a judge who probably should be on the Supreme Court (but isn’t, for all you college students out there):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘If it doesn’t make sense it’s not true!’

‘If you tell the truth, you don’t have to have a good memory.’

‘Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.’

 

This just in.

Church isn’t about you

or your feelings.

I’m a big fan…

It’s not about discovering your inner champion,

your Best Life Now,

Though such a focus can get you an awful lot of members.

or your purpose.

Though it sells an awful lot of books.

It’s not about learning the secrets to ‘success’…

financial, spiritual, or otherwise,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

nor about learning tricks for getting God to do what you want.

It isn’t about jumping on the bandwagons of the most current fad teachings,

Some of us have been wondering if Zondervan’s jumped the shark…

doing book studies on sketchy, subtly doctrine-bending bestsellers,

Interesting endorsement from the author of The Massage…(wait, is anyone still reading this definitive work?)

or emulating semi-celebrity pastors,

Was Pastor Mark ever a consultant on pastorfashion.com?

quaffing the latest therapeutic tripe and pseudo-profundities.

It isn’t about your personal sense of stability or inner peace

or maintaining a social status quo.

Jesus died for the church, so you’d better take it seriously–that means understanding what it is, what it means to be a part of it, and learning how to safeguard its members from declining into worldliness.

It’s gotten so bad that there are some churches who believe themselves mature Christians, and yet, should some unfortunate express an orthodox opinion on a controversial subject, or argue for the relevance of the full counsel of the Word of God, he is met with…

About Pithy:

Pollio ‘Pithy’ DeLaCroix spent his kithood in Quebec, and the formative years of his youth in the American Midwest.  He and ekkles met in September 2010, and have been near-constant companions ever since–except for a fortnight’s separation in January 2015, after Pithy’s over-exuberant ringing in of the New Year led to him sleeping late and missing his morning coach.  Due to having neither ID nor money, he was stranded at the Royal Highland until ekkles’ mother-in-law mounted a rescue; at the hotel, Pithy was well-treated and well-fed on potato scones until he was able to journey south.  As an animal, he is not affected by original sin and therefore is incapable of, among other things, betraying a trust.  He lives with ekkles’ family outside of Bristol, UK, and enjoys building projects, gardening, retro music and TV, reading CS Lewis, esp. the Chronicles of Narnia, and Calvin & Hobbes.  He is vegetarian due to health reasons but enjoys craft beers and Spanish reds.

The Confidentiality Card

I will, d.v., follow this post with a less specific one on the Consequences of Doing Nothing; for now, it will suffice to say that in the ongoing saga that is Church Capri, one theme keeps rising to the surface: it’s a council matter, and they have to keep everything confidential, therefore I shouldn’t ask for an explanation or proof of what happened.  This is what I will call ‘Playing the Confidentiality Card’.

What the leadership does at Capri is, in theory, dictated by the church order of her denomination. There is in fact mention made of the council members’ responsibility to hold at least something[s] ‘in confidence’.  Let’s look at this subordinate clause in its context and see whether the excuse printed on the Confidentiality Card can walk or not, much less hold water.  The excerpts below are from the forms cited as they appear in the text available online, at the denominational website.

1. The clause in the ordination form is vague–defining it may be difficult. It runs thus:

‘They must provide true preaching and teaching, regular celebration of the sacraments, and faithful counsel and discipline while keeping in confidence those matters entrusted to them.’

The immediate context would seem to indicate that confidential matters are linked to the duties of counseling and church discipline. In the case of Capri, a confidential counseling matter might be, for example, a parishioner coming to an elder with an issue. We know that last year some people came to at least one elder with complaints against the pastor. That should have been kept in confidence unless the parishioner chose otherwise. Yet the elder had an obligation to ‘counsel’ as well. If the complaint was, let’s say, about the pastor’s preaching, the elder’s primary responsibility would be to advise the parishioner to go to the pastor with his issues, as stipulated in, among other passages, Matthew 18, and the pastor should hear him. In addition, it would be incumbent on the elder to point out, if it is the case, that the pastor’s preaching was biblical, and that therefore, for example, there were no grounds for making demands that the pastor change based on the parishioner’s complaint. However, the first point stands: regardless if the nature of the complaint, the elder should counsel the person to go to the pastor and discuss the issue with him face-to-face. The pastor would then also be obligated to keep such a discussion confidential.

In the case of discipline, there were a few instances in the past few years where people probably ought to have been disciplined, but weren’t—it’s hard to know, at least in Capri, what confidentiality looks like, practically, in such situations. Discipline just doesn’t happen there.

But in looking at the specific case of the termination of Pastor Templar, the List and the meeting at which Pastor T. read his response to it were not treated as confidential by the council itself. The congregation heard about the List after it was given to the pastor, and after the meeting, the council gave its own summary of the response and their reaction to it after the morning service on 1 November; furthermore, arguably defamatory excerpts from the Article 17 were read aloud to the congregation at the congregational meeting. By the council’s own precedent, the event and the text of the List and Pastor T’s response are not confidential; rather, they have been trotted out, in written bits or verbal representations, as justification for the termination, but no one in the congregation has had access to the documents for context, and to verify whether they conform to the verbal claims made about them.

2. Even if the clause were interpreted as applying to a wide range of issues and situations, it could be argued that it wouldn’t apply to an event or document that precipitated the [unbiblical] firing of a minister. On the one hand, if wrongdoing by the council were suspected, the documentation ought to be published, to dispel or confirm the suspicion, and either clear the pastor or the council of wrongdoing, because a congregation can’t really move forward in faith if it is isn’t certain that its leadership has acted in accordance with the Law of God and in a manner worthy of the name of Christ. As it has been alleged, by more parties than simply the pastor in question, that this was WRONG, there should be an investigation, and the alleged cause for his dismissal (the List, and his reply to it) should be examined, and likely the background to the List as well (what precipitated it, why it is in the order it is, why it includes such a variety of issues, why it wasn’t written up in advance, what were the biblical justifications for certain items, whether it was from the beginning a ‘package deal’, whether it was made clear to the Pastor that his job was dependent on him accepting the List wholesale with no discussion, etc.). On the other hand, if he were being fired for a serious moral lapse or gross sin, like sexual harassment or embezzling, it could be argued that it is incumbent on the council to make the reason public, even calling upon the civil authorities to press charges.

3. Because the council is elected and confirmed by their congregation, the congregation is obligated to hold the leadership accountable in terms of both its teaching and actions against the standards provided by scripture and the tradition of the church (following the example of the Bereans). In the following passage from the Covenant for Office Bearers, the council is bound to give a thorough explanation to the church if it takes issue with any statements in the confessions:

‘Should we come to believe that a teaching in the confessional documents is not the teaching of God’s Word, we will communicate our views to the church, according to the procedures prescribed by the Church Order and its supplements. If the church asks, we will give a full explanation of our views. Further, we promise to submit to the church’s judgment and authority.’

The council is answerable to the church even in terms of its stance on doctrinal matters.  As such, the congregation, on some issues, has a certain ‘right to know’ what goes on in the consistory room (e.g., the budget is published. Why?). The council is to be made up of the spiritual caretakers of the church; elders should be able faithfully to teach the Bible, and both elders and deacons should live lives characterized by exemplary Christian service and righteousness. If they have in fact sinned, especially as a group, in effect having brought reproach on Christ’s name and on their local body by abuse of their position, the circumstances should be made known to the congregation in order that they may judge whether discipline is necessary. It is also incumbent on the congregation itself to maintain its own purity and standing before God, and to honor Him and the Truth by diligently seeking it out.

4. The form for ordination includes many other binding or prescriptive clauses. It is difficult to grant credibility to the selective enforcement (or hiding behind, depending on point of view) of one clause when so many others have been ignored and/or broken. Some examples follow.

In the Form for Ordination, the office of elder is described thus (emphasis mine):

‘Elders are thus responsible for the spiritual well-being of God’s people. They must provide true preaching and teaching, regular celebration of the sacraments, and faithful counsel and discipline while keeping in confidence those matters entrusted to them. And they must promote fellowship and hospitality among believers (I bolded this because on the List such duties were made the responsibility of the pastor alone [?!]), ensure good order in the church, and stimulate witness to all people.’

A little further down, the deacons are charged with, among other things, the securing of justice:

‘In Christ’s name the deacons relieve victims of injustice. By this they show that Christians live by the Spirit of the kingdom, fervently desiring to give life the shape of things to come.’

The following is in the charge to the elders:

‘Be a friend and Christlike example to children. Give clear and cheerful guidance to young people.’

And this:

‘Be wise counselors who support and strengthen the pastor.’

And this:

‘Be compassionate, yet firm and consistent in rebuke and discipline.’

And:

Know the Scriptures, which are “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).’

From the vows:

‘Do you subscribe to the doctrinal standards of this church, rejecting all teaching which contradicts them?’

And:

‘Do you promise to do the work of your offices faithfully, in a way worthy of your calling and in submission to the government and discipline of the church?’

5. It was observed in the midst of the situation that confidentiality of emails between even pastors was not being respected; when pastors who were passing around emails were confronted on this issue, they either would not admit to doing so, or outright refused to maintain confidentiality. One party concluded that it never had been reasonable to expect matters to be kept confidential, given the attitudes of people involved. It is my belief that the confidentiality card being played at this stage serves only to protect the suspected guilty.

I can be cynical in this regard, since, per the termination agreement, Pastor Templar is bound by a gag order, which, if not obeyed, could cost him his severance.  The council is also bound not to speak disparagingly of Pastor T., and of course it would be safer to say nothing about the situation at all, but as stories continue to circulate, proliferate and mutate, it can be reasonably assumed that certain council members do not feel themselves bound by discretion.  One council member’s wife actually took it upon herself to read a letter addressed to the council only, and even to send me a reply.  I will resist offering extensive comment on this.

Indeed, such lack of consideration for propriety is to be expected; the termination agreement also specified that any statement put out to the congregation was to be mutually constructed and agreed upon by both the council and Pastor Templar.  One was written and posted to all the congregation, Templar excepted, without his even having been given notice that the council had been working on it.  He may not have learned about it until long after, if a former member had not informed him, and had some of the letters not been returned to the church undelivered due to invalid addresses!

6. Finally and briefly, the ‘business’ of council meetings is ‘open,’ just as the church budget is published, just as the pastor’s salary is published.  And, the written grounds for firing someone should be as accessible as the grounds for hiring them: the whole congregation can hear a candidate preach, meet him, discuss him, then deliberate and vote whether to call him in a congregational meeting called for the purpose.  How can it be that to fire the same man, none of the process or the decision is ‘accessible’ to the church as a whole?

sic scribatur (pt 2): illa via est (That’s the Way it is!)

DSCF1143.JPGI’m amazed at the way church leadership acts–and perhaps should be more amazed at the way they think.  I get more clarity and common sense  from the bartenders at work.  Why?  There are probably a great number of factors, but one possibility that first presents itself is that cocktail bartenders live in the real world, and don’t have much time for postmodern sociological constructs and terminology, therapeutic abstracts and cliches, or faux-intellectualism.  How educated Christians get duped into adopting those patterns of thought when they have the Bible and Christian tradition is then the next question!

Someone can talk in a half-hearted but flowery way about worldviews and lack the awareness (or education?) to recognize he betrays or is demonstrating the unbiblical nature of his own worldview.  And don’t say there are multiple ways of interpreting key passages which can lead to multiple ‘Christian’ worldviews!  Is that what the Bible itself says or assumes about itself?

The Ancient of Days, crowned with power and authority, can’t make himself clear?  Or, which of his words are open to multiple, valid yet contradictory interpretations, and which are not?  And can the first category suffer this fate of multiple ‘readings’ without also suffering degradation of scripture’s perspicuity, infallibility, etc.?

This situation exemplifies the arrogance of (post)modernity–operating in a chronological vacuum and an intellectual bubble.  Ingrates and imbeciles!

Is it possible to be jealous of someone else’s conviction or integrity?  I think it certainly is possible, even for those who have sold out to the Zeitgeist.  If only more CRC people had gone to a place like Hillsdale, rather than to Calvin, where they were evidently not taught to think and not equipped to resist the ebb and flow of culture and philosophical fads.  And where ought they to have learned to put Jesus before their families?  Shouldn’t need seminary for the application of Luke 14:26.

You’ve made a mistake –you believed what you were told without having seen the Thing for itself.  That is the responsibility in any investigation—verification, confirming the truthfulness of a claim. (Proverbs 18:17)

You’ve made a second mistake–you were warned by three different parties that you’d judged in haste, and you ignored them.

You’ve made a third mistake–you acted on your first intelligence without checking in with Celestial HQ.

You’ve made a fourth mistake–when challenged on your first three, you declined to own your part in the unfolding drama of injustice, and have since scrambled to cover your tracks and double-talk your way out of responsibility.

Now in the denouement, your every correspondence is another stroke, another dip of the spade into the earth, ever deepening the hole of your denial.

Evangelicalism is dying, and people who are awake on the ramparts are asking why.  It is because of people within, people like these who speed its demise by encouraging and nurturing its disease, when they should know better, when they’re told better, when the watchmen have spelled it out for them.

Clergy should be scholars as well as all the other things required by pastoral ministry.  How can it be beyond such men to think in biblical categories?  This (whether a pastor is being unfairly treated and dismissed without biblical grounds) should be a case of going back to basics.

Instead, these clerical spectators and meddlers operate in ways that would bring a blush to the cheek of the Christian intellectual tradition.  Disciples and apostles–among them educated men.  The students of the Word among the Patristics and throughout the Middle Ages, particularly the As–Augustine, Athanasius, Ambrose, Anselm and Aquinas.  Where would Christendom be if it weren’t for such as these?  Lost to heresy long ago, but God used men and their minds.  The Reformation and the brain-efforts that rivaled the achievements of Plato and Aristotle (in my opinion!)–where would we be if such people who led the charge for the Word had dealt in the subjective, feelings- and perceptions-based intellectual ‘economy’ of our day?

Where is forthrightness?  Where is commitment?  Where is discipline?  Where is wisdom?  Where is prayer?

To be assaulted by indignant believers demanding justice, and to answer them with hollow, easy, Google-level therapeutic platitudes is so unworthy of true Christianity.  But it’s no wonder that the shrewd among the worldly academics perceive the intellectual bankruptcy of so much of contemporary ‘Christianity’.  Cotton candy self-esteem aids (or placebos) can be gotten anywhere, from any dime-a-dozen NY Times bestselling author with an active pen and originality enough to regurgitate ideas about life improvement and self-validation and -justification in a ‘fresh’way for 130 pages.  Why do you need organized religion for that?

One of the reasons for being in a local fellowship of believers is to hold one another accountable.  When there is no longer any ‘accounting’, why should people leave the comfort of their homes on a Sunday?  Socializing and a sense of belonging can be had at the pub or bowling alley or book club, or group therapy.

But since when did we proclaim a person or a body ‘good and godly’ based on someone’s, anyone’s, say-so?  What about the sons of Sceva?  They knew the vocabulary–how come what they ‘said’ didn’t count?  By their fruit shall you know them.  ‘God is blessing there.’ ‘Oh, in what way?’ ‘They’re growing.’ ‘Oh, in what way?’ ‘Membership rolls are needing constant updates!’ ‘Oh, so people are being saved?’ ‘Well, they’re being reached…’ ‘With what?’ ‘Why, with them, of course!   They’re doing such a good job!’

When the praise you hear (from even pastors outside, in this case) about a church is for the people, about how great they are, with only an obligatory but meaningless nod (when pressed about the spiritual state) to our remnant sin nature, and there’s no mention of the Gospel or move of the Spirit, you have to wonder if the congregation want themselves preached.  Why not?  They’re so good and godly and generous and loving that surely God would want them set forth as an example!  After all, who can see himself in Jesus without a bit of extra effort?  Jesus preached straight only embodies a challenge for them to open their eyes.  They’d (perhaps the congregation and their visitors) prefer to keep him in the periphery as much as possible, or else trot out a sanitized, squishy version of him that puffs their pride and approves their moral waffling.  After all, he is the Word, and they didn’t like the Word unless they got to pick which bits applied to them, and unless they got to define with they meant.

The other Dutch Masters–Bavinck and Berkhof–how would they describe the plight of this denomination?  How would they respond to these deniers of inerrancy, of sufficiency, of transcendence, of authority, of kingship, of unity, of gifts, of forgiveness, of growth, of love and of the gospel itself… how did it happen?

To deny, as a knee-jerk reflex, the possibility of a church at risk, just because it hasn’t proclaimed itself (or owned up to being) liberal, is naive–it’s denying what must be obvious.  Apostasy is not usually determined and revealed in a matter of hours–it is a gradual decline, a gradual backsliding.  Modernity and Postmodernity, in the ways they’ve manifested in the Church, did not materialize out of nowhere.  They’re extended periods in a historical process, developments in a chain along a timeline.  Once devotion to and respect for scripture goes (and the ‘giving up’ of that often happens only gradually, without anyone realizing it), it is only a matter of time.

Certain denominations in America are presumed dead, as are their local bodies, unless proven otherwise by a visit.  But that doesn’t mean that other denoms not so presumed are healthy.  Regression–the process–is at work; churches all over are dying or already dead, and people don’t know it yet.  And, dying doesn’t necessarily mean shrinking, which means diagnosis must be done with more than a superficial glance.  Decline is measured in a number of ways, although American pragmatism, with values and judgments revolving around RESULTS, so easily leads us astray here.  It is a mode of assessment which can’t be applied to scripture, and therefore it should be viewed with suspicion.  E.g., Jeremiah was an abject failure.  ‘Nuff said?

Some of the biggest ‘churches’ in America have been places where the Gospel is obscured, or outright denied.  Success?  Must be doing a lot of things ‘right’ anyway, with all that money and all those names and all those ‘satellites’.

At any rate, a church still on its feet that ‘looks good’ and ‘happy’ at first blush, especially one that will tell you everything is great (at least, with the sheep!) should pass a certain number of litmus tests, the most important of which concern their relationship to the Word of God.  The pharisees lived out the law, to all appearances, and they’d have been the first to tell you how on track they were.  And yet Jesus knew their hearts, and it wasn’t a pretty picture.  We can see some of what he knew for ourselves, in passages of the Gospels, like when Jesus healed on the Sabbath.  At least the pharisees knew God’s Word, even if they didn’t understand it, honor it, or live it.

In some churches, respect paid to the Bible is all lip-service.  Some people in our case study have acted if their ears bleed when they hear sound doctrine (they would rather hear, from behind the pulpit, evil called good!), and praise and pass around offensive (because misleading or deceiving), unbiblical rubbish on their own time.  This tells you something, if you know your Bible, take it seriously, on its own terms, and if the Lord speaks to you and gives you a modicum of discernment.  If you are consistently being more and more conformed to His image, your mind will be more like His, and so will your ‘eyes’.  You’ll see this kind of situation for what it is –what it really is.  Certainly early signs should have been enough, while the abuse and maligning of the pastor apparently isn’t.   How can people be so dense?

How is this for a logic puzzle?  Only in Christian churches does someone who has been tormented for months and months and then unjustly fired get asked, ‘What can you learn from this?  What is God trying to show you?’  lege hic: ‘Now what did you do to bring this on yourself?’**   The culture pounces on people for victim-blaming.  Only into the church has psycho-therapy, with an accompanying reluctance to hold people accountable for sin, for fear of ‘losing’ them (while sin as a concept has been rejected by the world), seeped and stuck in its toxic barbs so deep that it has been carried long past biblically reasonable application ad absurdum–and it shows a church that has fallen from its foundations, or else allowed them to be blown out from under it by the insidious creep of godless thinking and rebellion from the world’s culture.

Oddly enough, it’s admitted that ‘everyone is (still) a sinner’, but this is given as some sort of placatory concession; folk don’t really operate (believe?) as if they’re sinners, nor as if the people whom they support are sinners.  In this situation, it doesn’t take two to tango.  Just a pastor who takes a stand, who preaches the trustworthy word as taught even if some people with no biblical credibility grumble.  Back on track: if the church is full of people who are still capable of sinning, why is it assumed that they never actually do?  Is it because it’s the word of many against the few, or the one?  What does that mean, that right is decided by a majority?  Dangerous reasoning!

In this case, you don’t even have to be a howling mob to get what you want–you just have to create the impression that you’re a howling mob, and that you’ve been screaming for ages, and Big Brother will give you exactly what you want, even if it’s not what the Bible says is good for you, or is the right and godly thing.  Oh wait, did I say Big Brother?  That’s a reference to a totalitarian (secular) government–what is fitting for the powers and colleagues and players in a church drama?

**I return to this question.  How come the gangbangers aren’t asked any questions?  They’re allowed to go on their merry way, with the loot, their self-righteousness, and all.  Sinners?  Yet somehow immaculate, and no one of them, on his or her own, will have to give an explanation (on this earth) for what they’ve done, or even demonstrate how they justify it even to themselves, individually and as a group.  But there’s nothing to justify when justice isn’t a priority–just expediency.  If it is possible to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake, then can it not be possible for one party to be wholly in the wrong, and the other wholly in the right?  Or, since we’re now so equal-opportunity and so postmodern, perhaps we should ask the persecuted one whether he realizes now that he could have been a little less righteous, and the beating wouldn’t have happened to him.

When the group of senators determined to kill Julius Caesar on the Ides of March, several of them had knives–only one stab wound, the lethal one, was necessary, but he was left with more than 20.  Surely the intent was for the conspirators to prove their permanent and irrevocable commitment to the plot by getting their hands dirty–bloody, even.  Was that one of the reasons for the whole of the council standing together to make official announcements in our case?

They’ll put themselves on the record backing this wicked nonsense, and somehow, pastors and denominational higher-ups can’t commit the time and mental and spiritual energy to finding the truth, declaring it and securing justice for the injured party, while obeying God’s Word and calling to account the wrongdoers, who sound like they need the Gospel preached to them anew, and also a physical shaking by the shoulders like a child that’s kicked the baby or the dog.  Their fruit does not offer much cause for assurance that they actually know Christ, after decades in a church, within a tradition that is still so widely respected for its commitment to the Bible.

Pastors in this church’s denomination are being punished for standing up for the whole Truth in the face of the degradation of the authority of scripture, threats to their personal security, and opposition to the Gospel, all from and within their flocks.  If a pastor does not cow-tow to the demands of extortionists, he’s drummed out, ridden out of town on a rail, and slapped with a black mark called an Article 17, from which he’ll spend years trying to recover his reputation and on account of which he may not get another job.  And he’ll have to abide by a clause, a gag order, keep his mouth shut, lest he forfeit his severance pay.  And who will hold the flock accountable should they gossip about him after his ignominious departure?  We already know how this story (well, the council’s scandal, though no one recognizes it) is still on people’s lips–it’s actually continuing to evolve, the narrative of why the pastor was kicked out!   And God help the disgraced pastor’s successor, if he has any godly mettle in him; because that flock will face no consequences for their abuse of the minister of God whom they called.  They’ll do it again if they’re chafed by the challenge of scripture, if that Hole in their Holiness is exposed afresh. I do hope that the cavalry is just on the other side of the ridge, and that the riders actually have the mind of Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

sic scribatur (pt 1)

♫’This post is making fun of yoooouuu!’♫

People talk about respect being something one earns.

I suppose there are different types of respect, and different means by which people earn it.  If you want to be respected as a chef, you design and cook dishes that taste good.  If you want to be respected as an engineer, you build things that are safe, strong, functional, and hopefully, within budget.  If you want to be respected as a teacher, you have to be both knowledgeable about your topic, and be able to communicate information as well as your passion about it to others; you also have to be a lifelong student yourself and ready to admit when you don’t know something.

If you want to be respected for your ideas, that is, as a thinker, you have to prove in the first place that you can think.  We humans have been gifted with something unique to us–I won’t argue that it is language, per se, because plenty of scientists argue that other species have ‘language’.  I am not qualified to debate that.  But something we do have, and it in its turn demonstrates that with language we can do something other species cannot–we can talk about ideas, and when we do, we have a means by which to immortalize, commit to memory, for both history and posterity, those ideas–the development, the discussion, the disagreement, the breakthroughs, the dead-ends, the triumphs, the failures, the lessons learned or ignored–in writing.  Writing is essential to intellectual pursuit and progress in all the disciplines: from mathematics to philosophy to history to molecular biology,  and everything in between, we work with ideas and through problems, publish the process (and results) for the benefit or scrutiny of our fellow man, and they criticize, correct, praise, learn from and build upon what has been done, and add more to the ever-expanding library in the Marketplace of Ideas, the forum of the Great Dialogue.

Christian theologians and ministers, above all, should appreciate the inherent value of writing, and its counterpart blessing, reading.  As a ‘people of the Book’, we and the Jews worship a deity who chose to reveal Himself through the written Word, which by His Spirit He inspired human authors to commit to stone, vellum and papyri, and which through His Providence He preserved across the ages by human agents.  We must be thankful that He has made His will so very clear, so permanent, so accessible.  And we must appreciate that reading and writing well, two disciplines that go hand-in-hand, ought to be respected, and indeed cultivated, by all who want to engage in the Marketplace of Ideas as capable, effective Christian witnesses.

Not only must we read well to be able to approach God’s Word as He intended, but also, if we are influential, in any way, in the Church, from Bible-study leaders to seminary professors, we have to be able to express the truths of God clearly to those who know Him, as those learning from us have to be equipped to testify in the world.  The best way to prepare, and keep our minds sharp, for such responsibilities is to engage with ideas, with the treasures at the heart of the gospel, as well as with the written gems of the Church’s great minds from the past centuries up to now, throughout our lives–and in writing, as we do in school.

When we discuss things that matter, we have to know what others are saying, and what they mean.  And we have to ensure they are able to do the same–we have to make ourselves intelligible, and prove that we understand our colleagues and especially our opponents.  We have to choose our own words as carefully as we listen to those of other people.  We have to know how to discern a speaker’s or writer’s own level of knowledge, his presuppositions, the influences on his perspective and philosophical approach, the things which inform his worldview; we also have to be able to recognize, articulate, defend, and if necessary, amend, our own.  We have to know how to listen, read, examine, and analyze–and do all these things competently.  And, likewise, to respond in a meaningful way, we must know how to express ourselves well, and we learn to do that by writing.

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Imagine my surprise when I discover that–not one, not two, but at least three clergymen, with advanced degrees from a reputable seminary, men older than myself, with Masters of Divinity, cannot read!

TBC…