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More and More Baptists Catching Up with Me

According to the collection of essays edited by Rodney Kennedy and Derek C. Hatch in Gathering Togther: Baptists at Work in Worship, a growing number of Baptists seem to be gravitating toward a more liturgical style of worship. As Associated Baptist Press reports,

A number of other pastors and scholars, some of whom penned essays for the new book and some who didn’t, say the growing missional movement in American Christianity may well be the catalyst for the spread of liturgical worship in Baptist churches.

Those experts also cite anecdotal and published reports that Millennials and other young people are gravitating toward high-church traditions, turned off by what they see as gimmicks and fads in hyper-contemporary worship.

And when it comes to Baptists, it may be catching on also because younger people aren’t hung up on the anti-creedal mentality that has long dominated the church.

Clearly, this movement has not yet achieved anything like critical mass, but there are signs that at least some churches are making peace with liturgical forms: Taizé worship, reciting the Psalms, liturgical responses, etc.

One piece that seems to be conspicuously absent in the ABP story (I haven’t seen the book) is the place of the Eucharist in all this. My hunch is that breaking us Baptists out of the funeral-dirge approach to the Lord’s Supper might be key in bringing everything else liturgical into proper alignment.

I would further say that we have an excellent model to follow in grounding Baptist worship in the rich history of Christian liturgy through work already done by the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia.

The Church: Mother or Babysitter?

Thoughtful piece by Chaplain Mike on why so many young evangelicals are turning toward more historically grounded expressions of Christian faith. The final paragraphs speak for me as well:

I don’t have statistical evidence to prove that, as Rebecca VanDoodewaard says, young people are returning to historic traditions in droves. If our roster of authors and families here at Internet Monk is any indication, many of us who are Baby Boomers may be. I think that most of us here would say that the older we get, the less stomach we have for the shallow pandering to culture that characterizes so much of contemporary American evangelicalism. Our journey has been a long and winding road through decades of experimenting and fads.

If some of those in younger generations are feeling that way now and doing something about it, perhaps they won’t have to endure some of wilderness experiences many of us had.

My Favorite Baptist Bishop

William E. Yoder has an article in Christianity Today about my favorite Baptist bishop, +Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia (not the state, the former Soviet Republic). Here’s a sample:

Many Orthodox view Baptists as a Western-inspired and -funded fringe or underground movement, decrying them as sectarian heretics. Baptists, in turn, have regarded Orthodox as unconverted. Yet Songulashvili has “uncovered the treasures” of the Orthodox tradition, he says, and incorporates them into faith and practice. He intends to lead a denomination that’s Baptist in theology while both Georgian and Orthodox in culture—and to break the longstanding impasse between evangelical Protestants and Orthodox throughout Eastern Europe.

Structurally, the EBCG calls itself an Episcopal Baptist church. It is headed by an archbishop and three bishops—one of whom is female. Female ordination and liturgical dance both mark EBCG’s departure from Orthodoxy.

But the tradition of worshiping God with all five senses is one Orthodox gift that the EBCG receives “with gratitude,” says Songulashvili. Consequently, the EBCG has founded a school for icon painting and uses incense in services. It has a monastic order and holds processions and pilgrimages.

(H/T: Michael Bird)

Reclaiming Mystery

Bosco Peters links to a story about a fascinating character, the Wizard of New Zealand. Since New Zealand is the stunt double for Middle Earth, it really shouldn’t surprise me that they have their very own “non-fictional, non-commercial, wizard” whose mission in life is to conduct “a largely solo attempt to re-enchant the world, making use of [his] training as an academic sociologist and psychologist.”

Peters elaborates a bit on the importance of mystery for and in the church. His comments are worth a thorough reading, but I’ll simply share a few paragraphs to give you the gist:

Fundamentalists, antitheists, and the insipid are three natural results of the disenchantment.

Fundamentalists reject the enchantment of our spiritual world, accepting instead a flat rationalistic literalism. Antitheists are the shadow side of fundamentalists. Like fundamentalists, they also do not go beyond a flat rationalistic literalism. Rather than accepting the flat literalism as the fundamentalists do, antitheists reject it. For fundamentalists God is scary. For antitheists God is silly.

The third category, that I here call the insipid, is that category that one meets so often in churches: led by clergy who, if they have training at all – it consists in a university degree in the dismembering of the scriptures. These clergy have little to no liturgical study and training. Sacraments have been desiccated to things that occur solely in one’s head. Bells, smells, and symbols are reduced to a couple of candles on a table (if you are lucky). Vesture is degraded to what the majority of Christian history would regard essentially as underwear. They hold to the last vestiges of the outward form of godliness but deny its power.


Witherington: Anti-Ecclesial Rhetoric

Ben Witherington has some food for thought regarding a particular trend in the so-called Emerging movement. He begins:

One of the things I have grown weary of in the last decade or so, is anti-ecclesial rhetoric. What I mean by this is the pitting of the ‘church’ over against Jesus, or ‘the established church’ over against more ‘organic’ models of Christianity (e.g. house churches, and the like). I suppose we all from time to time look for something or someone to blame our problems on, and the Christian church has become something of a punching bag, even for a goodly number of devout Christians. Sometimes this is because they have joined the ‘I’m spiritual, not religious’ movement, or the ‘I love Jesus, but the church…. not so much’ band wagon. Some of this frankly is caused by a profound misunderstanding of the word church/ ekklesia.

He concludes:

It is my hope that when the Emerging Church stops Emerging from wherever it has been previously hidden and starts merging with other groups of Christians who are willing to partner with them, that it will be realized that it was after all unprofitable and unhelpful to sass your Mother, to repudiate the womb from which you emerged, by which I mean the ekklesia, the body of Christ, the people of God, which will always need structures and organizations. Think on these things.

The stuff in between is well worth the read.

A Case for Sunday Worship

Skye Jethani:

The move away from Sunday worship can have many motivations, and some of them are honorable and even Spirit-guided. But I sense some congregations opt for non-Sunday worship without considering these deeper realities. In other words, the merely utilitarian reasons on which which we abandon Sunday may be another sign of how theologically, historically, and biblically ignorant we have become. We view our gatherings as a time of self-improvement, therapeutic enrichment, social connection, or artistic expression–and it can be these things. So we make human-centered, self-centered decisions about when these functions can happen most conveniently during the week.

But we often fail to see our gatherings as a spiritual and embodied display of our participation in a new cosmic reality. We fail to see how Sunday morning is when and where the church displays the wisdom of God before the powers and authorities in the heavenly realms by aligning ourselves with Christ’s resurrection and the work of God’s new creation.

If you are considering abandoning Sunday morning worship for another time, I’m not saying you shouldn’t. Leaders ought to prayerfully seek God’s guidance on the matter, and do what is right for your flock and mission. Obey the Lord. But as part of the discernment process, at least study the richer reason behind the church’s historical commitment to Sunday morning worship, and teach this facet of worship to your congregation. I think many would be surprised by the real value of Sunday.

Ten Reasons Christians Shouldn’t Read the Patristic Fathers

Well said, Amanda. Well said.

On Strange Liturgical Bedfellows

David Koysis note a phenomenon that has also stumped me for some time:

The tendency for North American evangelicals to defend the fundamentals of the faith while largely abandoning the older liturgical traditions is something that not enough observers have managed to find puzzling. On the other hand, it is also true that the major part of evangelicalism in this continent, though affirming a vague orthodoxy, lacks both a robust ecclesiology and a strong confessional identity, with only a very few exceptions. Perhaps then it is not surprising that distinctive traditions of worship should long ago have been set aside as well.

Indeed, rather than leading them towards Rome, along with their mainline brethren, or towards the Reformation traditions, as one might expect, many evangelicals have instead subordinated worship, in utilitarian fashion, to the felt imperatives of church growth and reaching the so-called nonreligious. The result is worship that is not only deracinated but amounts merely to “one damn thing after another,” as one of my favourite liturgical scholars once put it.

So why is it that mainline protestants, who are scarcely less deracinated than their evangelical brethren, are increasingly reciting the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed during worship?

Why, indeed?

Harry Potter and the Communion of Saints?

In May I’ll be teaching a Sunday school class at my church on the Communion of Saints. I know, that’s not really a hot topic for Baptists, but strangely enough that is what they wanted me to talk about. So I’ll take a couple of weeks to look at how the dead were remembered and reverenced in ancient Israel and the surrounding cultures, unpack a bit of church history about the development of early Christian devotion to the saints, and cap it off by trying to raise questions about how twenty-first-century Protestants might think about all of this in fresh ways while remaining true to their theological convictions.

Probably because I’ve been reading (for the second or third time) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince with my daughter for the last few weeks, I began to notice a couple of days ago that the Boy Who Lived himself might provide some help in shaping that last session.

Maybe I’m the last person in the world to notice this, but the Harry Potter novels actually have quite a bit to say about how the living can interact with the dead, and the benefits that accrue such relationships. For example:

  • We can draw strength generally from the memory of what they mean to us, as with Harry’s Patronus (and Snape’s). Need I mention that patronus is Latin for “patron [saint]”?
  • We can imaginatively relive their experiences to gain wisdom and insight, as with Dumbledore’s Pensieve.
  • We can keep around us reminders of their former presence, which still speak to us in their customary tones. The talking, moving paintings that adorn the halls of Hogwarts are the prime example.
  • Finally, we can interact directly with whatever part of them remains accessible to the living, as with the Hogwarts ghosts or the “shadows” invoked by the Resurrection Stone.

I’m thinking only the last of these may be theologically problematic for traditional Protestants.


Repost: Joseph of Nazareth, Pray with Us

To the extent that it is possible for a lifelong Baptist to have a patron saint, Joseph of Nazareth is one of two that I will claim. (The other is Vincent of Lérins, whose feast day is May 24.) I’m drawn to his story as a loyal, humble husband and father. I know what it’s like to need to find a new place to live—and in a hurry! Here are some of the lessons Christians can learn from Joseph:

1. Meat-and-potatoes spirituality. Joseph was not a prophet, priest, or rabbi. He was simply a “righteous man” who tried to do what was right, based on the laws and traditions of Israel. He ensured that Jesus was properly received into the Jewish community through circumcision and the ceremony for the redemption of the firstborn. He participated in at least some of the pilgrimage feasts in Jerusalem. Even his early inclination divorce Mary discreetly when he suspected she was unfaithful grew out of his commitment to the Torah. People who make their living with their hands don’t as a rule have much time for abstractions, but they can be very good at a lot of old-fashioned spiritual disciplines like honesty, generosity, consistency, and hard work.

2. Openness to mystery. All this does not mean, however, that Joseph merely went through the motions of his religion. It is clear that he was open to hearing something fresh from God. On a number of occasions, angels delivered important information or instructions through his dreams.

3. Family as a vehicle for devotion. We remember Joseph because he took care of his family. That is his spiritual legacy: not sermons, miracles, epistles, or missionary travels. In a lot of depictions of the Nativity, Joseph is portrayed with a worried expression on his face. Even at the incarnation Joseph, we are led to believe, was wondering how he was ever going to take care of his wife and her newborn son. He may not have been the most pious or well-educated man in Israel—and he was certainly not the richest—but he gave his all to the people he loved.

4. Actions, not words. There is not a single recorded word of Joseph in the New Testament. There is no Magnificat when the angel announces that Mary’s son is the promised Messiah—or even a bewildered “How can this be?” There are no gentle words to Mary when he tells her he has changed his mind and wants to go through with the wedding. Nor are there any bold challenges to any who would question Mary’s honor. We know what Joseph is like not because of anything he says, but because of what he does.

O God, who called your servant Joseph to be the faithful guardian of your incarnate Son, and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to follow his example in constant worship of you and obedience to your commands, that our homes may be sanctified by your presence, and our children nurtured in your fear and love, through the same your son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.