The Prayer of the Weak and the Joy of Singing Psalms

The Prayer of the Weak and the Joy of Singing Psalms

THE BLOG OF DAVID ROBERTSON

Imagine that God had given us a hymn book? – one with his words.  One that revealed his character.  One that expresses our emotions and hearts in words that the Holy Spirit inspires.  One that speaks of and to Christ.  One that is traditional, modern, post-modern and contemporary. One that is praise, lament, confession, rejoicing, individual and collective.   What would we give for such a book?    What value would we place on it?   Well he has – the book of Psalms – and yet it appears that many evangelical churches seem to place very little value on it.   I genuinely don’t understand churches that don’t sing psalms – apart from Ps 23 and those like 10,000 Reasons (based on Ps 103) that draw inspiration from them.

I think for me I would find it almost impossible to go to a church that did not use the…

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Do Not Be Anxious to Be Modern In Theology

Reformedish

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.

(Ecclesiastes 1:9-12)

If we had to classify the Teacher of Israel, it’s fairly clear he was not a modern.

Commenting on some of the defining marks of the theory of progress and the heart of the modern, Peter Leithart notes:

“The theory of progress rests on the notion that there is a cut in time between all that went before and what comes after the beginning of modernity. Modernity establishes itself by digging a monumental ditch, a ‘great divide,’ between the past and the present, between those still living in the past and those who are fully in touch with the possibilities of the present. The modern distinction of us and them and the boundaries that accompany it map out the world as modernity sees it. Modernity is an act of cartography, a zoning operation, an exercise in ‘chrono-politics.'”

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Benedicite, omnia opera Domini

O all ye Works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Angels of the Lord, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Heavens, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Waters that be above the Firmament, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O all ye Powers of the Lord, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Sun and Moon, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Stars of Heaven, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Showers and Dew, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Winds of God, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Fire and Heat, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Winter and Summer, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Dews and Frosts, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Frost and Cold, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Ice and Snow, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Nights and Days, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Light and Darkness, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Lightnings and Clouds, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O let the Earth bless the Lord : yea, let it praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Mountains and Hills, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O all ye Green Things upon the Earth, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.O ye Wells, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Seas and Floods, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Whales, and all that move in the Waters, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O all ye Fowls of the Air, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O all ye Beasts and Cattle, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Children of Men, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O let Israel bless the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Priests of the Lord, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Servants of the Lord, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Spirits and Souls of the Righteous, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye holy and humble Men of heart, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O Ananias, Azarias and Misael, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

 

Ananias, Azarias and Misael are names for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego the friends of Daniel. This is probably my favourite bit out of the morning prayer in the BCP where all of creation is called and encouraged to praise God. I try to think of every thing mentioned as I recite the lines, the repetition at first was tedious but I’ve gotten into it now and keep returning to this passage in particular.

Immediacy

Immediacy

Recently I heard some say we live in a time in which Western Christianity is determined by ‘immediacy’. It wasn’t expanded upon at the time but this struck a chord with me, something rang true about this.

When we look at the word ‘immediate’ and break it down (or type ‘etymology of immediate’ into Google) you get the following.

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-12-09-07

Immediate basically means ‘not mediated’ just as immodest means roughly ‘not modest’. In this light you could say that Protestantism is defined by ‘immediacy’ or rather the rejection of mediators (such as Popes, Priests and Saints) between us and God. Christ is our only mediator we say. Yet I think nearly all of us would say there needs to be some form ‘intervening’ at some level. Even the most Protestant of ministers would attest to that, otherwise they’d be out of the job. We are increasingly our own authority and I think a danger exists that this is corrosive to not just the church but all society.  What follows it a reflection on this and wondering what exactly is the right amount of mediation?

The idea of immediacy is one that seems inherently solitary. Any influence to qualify or interpret our understanding of events could arguably be considered mediated. A mediated experience is necessarily a shared experience. The family, school and government are mediated institutions. The media, whether mass or social, as its name suggests is by essence a mediated telling of events.

Even when we open the Bible to the Old Testament we see mediation in the actions of the Angels, Patriarchs, Prophets, Priests and Kings all of which are prefiguring or acting in the place of God. That is, until Jesus himself. After Jesus we have the Holy Spirit, but it isn’t disembodied but rather embodied in the followers of Christ. That is to say the Church. Scripture adopts familial language to describe the Church; Sisters and Brothers, Daughters and Sons, Mothers and Fathers. The Church is a mediated experience just as the family is. This is, to me, the first flashpoint between our contemporary understanding of ‘immediate’ Christianity and a more mediated reading of scripture.

In scripture we see the expectation of the experienced mentoring and setting an example for those unfamiliar or junior in knowledge of the faith. The Rabbi and his disciple, the Father and his son, the Shepherd and his sheep, these are all concepts familiar to us from the pages of the New Testament.Yet faith is largely solitary today, we may come together at set times, but more generally we operate with the general assumption that the Holy Spirit gives us the means, knowledge or ability to navigate through life and this is all we really need. We don’t really need one another, we have the Holy Spirit. What place then for spiritual discipline? What place then for accountability or confessing to one another? Is it possible that we experience the Holy Spirit through the family of Christ?

You may agree or disagree on this, which raises the question of who do we trust? Its debatable that part of the Protestant Reformation was a fundamental breakdown in trust between the Reformers and the Establishment of the Church in Europe at the time. I find it hard to move beyond the point where I am ultimately culpable for my own actions, I am response-able. Therefore one of the biggest obstacles I have in moving towards something like Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy (for example) is that I cannot agree with the theology of these churches, it is I not them who is ultimately responsible for my posture towards and relationship with God. A minister might be culpable, but it is I who is ultimately responsible. On one extreme we might say ‘no matter its more important to trust’ or that the belonging as a part of this or some other community, not theology, is the key to communion with God. Yet I can’t shake the root level Kierkegaardian existential foundation I find myself adhering to. I see that same existential relationship in the mystics of the church and their visions and with Christ in the garden alone with God. I am, as Charles Taylor suggests a ‘buffered self’ – I think we all are these days.

Thinking about all this I am reminded of two things.

  • The first is the historical transition of monastic practices from solitary to communal.  The immediacy of the solitary life being set aside for the mediated experience of life under both the rule of the community and the Abbott. The ironic idea that these people who withdrew from the world believed they drew closer to God by coming together (in a controlled context) than they did alone.
  • The second is the Garden of Eden and the New Jerusalem. Both of these places are characterised by the immediacy of us (not I) with God. In this seems the idea that all our mediation in this life is an attempt ultimately at achieving shared immediacy. Mediated experience can be (and has been) abused and dangerous but ultimately the immediacy of the Bible is communal, there is nothing else. The coming of Christ, his Holy Spirit is the coming together of Creator and Creation. The coming together of a New Heaven and a New Earth.

Our contemporary immediacy however is one that is so often characterised by a coming apart. We seek to distinguish, to set ourselves apart, not just from the world but other believers too. This is a sin we say, and this is true. Yet so often discussions on this topic inevitably lead to raising the subject of humility in setting aside our foibles and differences in submitting to one another, yet even this quickly falls apart when we ask the next question of who do we submit to? Normally it is the ones calling for humility on the part of others. This would be fine if such people were ultimately the ones responsible for our communion with God, but instead they are merely culpable. If we genuinely disagree, or see the other is in fact wrong and cannot correct them we quickly reach an impasse, we come apart. I am not sure how this is addressed other than becoming slightly more critical of our impulse towards immediacy, to be willing to keep talking if nothing else. To seek the coming together in all things, particularly in faith and where we cannot, to ask forgiveness from one another and from God for our failings. Yet ultimately the ‘direction’ all Christians should be travelling in is that of our coming together. This doesn’t take the form of homogeneity but in the pattern God has given us, that of family.

Finally in reflecting on this, their is something still to be said about authority, or the handling of mediated experience. We do need to move towards a point where we can set ourselves under one another. To recognise we are always in some a way a son even if we one day become a father. The image of the monastics submitting themselves to a rule of life, to the authority of their Father or Abbot I find helpful here. In our pursuit of immediacy we may stumble, and it is in the context of these relationships we need to be open to being corrected. This taps into the idea of covenant which I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the Church should be a covenant community. Part of the immediacy of this age is that we’ve exchanged this image of the Church as covenant to that of Church as service. We should be operating with an ‘Opt-In’ mentality but instead frequently operate with an ‘Opt-Out’ one instead. To elaborate, I once heard a Church of England parish minister describe his understanding of being part of the ‘Holy Catholic Church’ mentioned in the creeds as being there as a service for everyone in his parish regardless of faith. Being generous this is the idea of treating the geographic community as covenant community without any acquiescence on the part of the former. This is civil religion and not the Christian faith.It is utilitarian and not relational. This might seem obvious but there is little difference in my eyes between this and those espouse social justice for its own decontextualised ends, the early church did not operate in this way. The act of baptism is going down into the water, communion is coming up to the table. We Opt-In to a life in relationship with God, this is necessarily communal and any community requires mediation if it desires to achieve immediacy with God.

These are my own fragmentary thoughts on this, I hope they’ve been useful. If nothing else this has helped clear my thinking on the topic.

Adventus

the pocket scroll

Two days ago Advent began. Many ministers will have noted from their pulpits that the English word Advent comes from the Latin aduentus, which means ‘arrival’. Although my minister did not do this, when he said that the Kingdom of God has come, is coming, and will come, I couldn’t help but write down in my notebook:

ADVENTUS

As soon as I’d written Adventus, I thought about the Emperor in the late Roman world (un-coincidentally, the title of a course I’m teaching this semester) and the Adventus ceremony that surrounded his arrival in a city. This event was known well enough that it is used analogically by St Athanasius in On the Incarnation of the Word (as observed by S. MacCormack, Art and Ceremony in Late Antiquity), one of this season’s popular Patristic texts:

And like as when a great king has entered into some large city and taken up…

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One Reason Why John Stott’s Stand Against Martyn Lloyd-Jones Mattered

Alastair's Adversaria

A couple of days ago, Justin Taylor published an interview with the Rev Dr Andrew Atherstone, upon the fiftieth anniversary of a pivotal event in English evangelical history. At the National Assembly of Evangelicals on October 18, 1966, two of the biggest figures among British evangelicals in the day, the Welsh minister of Westminster Chapel in London, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and John Stott, rector of All Souls Church, had an important dispute about the future of evangelicals within the Church of England.

Lloyd-Jones gave an address calling for evangelicals to pursue visible unity with other evangelicals, accusing Anglican evangelicals of schism for their failure to unite with evangelicals outside of the Church of England, and of serious compromise for their continued involvement in a mixed denomination alongside doctrinally and spiritually unfaithful persons. Although he was the chairman, Stott publicly responded to Lloyd-Jones’ remarks, resisting his claims and appeal to Anglican evangelicals.

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