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Director of Fine Arts
Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School
On the Balance of Word and Sacrament
Re the article on the sacraments in RW 62: I believe a fuller sacramental and liturgical life will have positive effects on Reformed church growth. The “enduring structure” of Christian worship has been the dynamic of Word and sacrament. The late medieval church emphasized sacrament at the expense of Word. The Zwinglian Reformation emphasized Word at the expense of sacrament. Calvin sought to restore the church’s liturgy to the ancient balance of Word and sacrament, but the Reformed tradition has yet to regain the balance.
There are those in the Reformed tradition, like myself, who have “high church” or “sacramental” inclinations and who also value our rich tradition of profound preaching. I have found no other tradition with such consistently penetrating preaching. Reformed churches today are strong on Word, weak on sacrament. Conversely, there are those who might like to join Reformed churches because of the preaching but are reluctant to leave behind the riches of liturgy and sacramental worship.
Surely here is an excellent opportunity for Reformed churches. If the sacraments actually do mediate Christ to us, if they are an integral part of the gospel, as most of the Christian church believes (including Calvin), we are stunting believers’ spiritual growth by not making full use of them and harming our witness to nonbelievers.
“Arcane” liturgical rites are not necessarily an obstacle to richer sacramental practice; quite the opposite, in fact. I know many people aged twenty to forty, myself included, who gravitated toward an ancient liturgy simply because of the reverence, beauty, and great sense of continuity with the church of all ages. In short, we went because it was not “contemporary.” It was focused on God and not us. A fuller understanding of the sacraments came later. This inclination toward the “archaic” among Generations X and Y is much larger than people realize. For such people, weekly solemn Eucharist ministers Christ to them more than a contemporary worship team.
Why not church plants with extra focus on liturgy and sacrament? For churches with two morning services, why not make one of them a weekly communion celebration? Or perhaps a brief chapel service midweek?
For those interested in pursuing this, the “Mercersburg Theology” of nineteenth-century Reformed theologians John Williamson Nevin and Philip Schaff is helpful. Nevin and Schaff sought to recover and develop the incarnational aspects of the Reformers’ thought.
Orange City, Iowa
Orange City, Iowa
On Worship Teams
I read with interest Ron Rienstra’s article about what a worship team is and isn’t (RW 63, p. 28). At least 99 percent of it was exactly on target, from my perspective. (The remaining 1 percent was probably due to semantics.) Your article grabbed my attention because as [amateur] worship leader in our small, young church, I’ve struggled mightily to impress on the team what and who we are (worshipers leading worshipers, not performers).
I am writing to ask your permission to copy and distribute (with all proper attribution) your article to our pastor and worship team for inspiration, instruction, and encouragement.
Worship Leader/Music Minister
Christ Community Church
Note: Unless specified otherwise, all articles and resources in RW may be copied without permission for congregational use by subscribers from that congregation. —ERB/p>
Flags in Worship
John Witvliet’s tactful solution to the question of the United States flag in a church sanctuary (include the flags of many nations), may miss the opportunity for clear witness (see RW 63, p. 33).
On September 16, 2001, I shared the following with our congregation:
After all the tragic events of this past week I want to say something this morning especially for the international students who are in our midst. [There are usually about twenty countries represented here on Sunday.] You know that many of us are Americans who care deeply about our country, but there are no flags here. I do not mind at all saying the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, but I would never say it in a Christian church. I also like to sing the national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” and I usually get choked up when I do so. But I would never sing it in a Christian church. That is because we gather here as Christians, with our highest loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Lord of his church across the globe, and indeed the Lord of the whole world. That loyalty and that commitment are greater than any commitment we could make to a human institution or a human state. And in a time of national tragedy and sorrow we look beyond the power and strength of any nation to realize that only the power of God is perfect and complete and only God deserves our absolute loyalty.
Tom Stark, pastor
University Reformed Church
East Lansing, Michigan
“Two Gray Cats” and the
Doctrine of Election
I have been a subscriber to Reformed Worship since the first issue and have always appreciated the many ideas and perspectives in the magazine. I was very disturbed therefore to read the poem “Two Gray Cats” (RW 63, p. 21) in the article “A Classic TULIP Bouquet.” This poem is a horrible example of the doctrine of election and was a poor choice for a magazine whose primary focus is on corporate worship. Fatalism does not belong in a magazine such as this. The Christian Reformed Church denominational publication The Banner had an excellent article on this topic in the Dec. 31, 2001, issue. As Rev. Timmer states in the article “Election Is a Story,” “the Bible does not say that God chooses only a few people and rejects most people.” And “the greatest abuse of the biblical teaching of election occurs when we divorce election from the mission of the elect.” This poem is an embarrassment to an otherwise quality publication and I am extremely disappointed in the editorial staff for including it in the article.
I am a bit puzzled by the poem “Two Gray Cats” (RW 63, p. 21). I suppose the most natural way to read the poem is as a parable of election, since that is the theme of the article. The point of the parable then is that two needy sinners came to God seeking salvation. God let one through and kicked the other away. Is this the message you are encouraging us to communicate to the congregation assembled for worship?
This is not a theoretical question; I have already had one member of the congregation ask if this poem represents the Reformed understanding of election. Do you think it does? I hope not, but then I wonder why it is included in an article about Reformed theology.
Thomas J. Niehof, pastor
Trinity Christian Reformed Church
Editorial comment: The poem certainly does not represent a Reformed view of the doctrine of election; it was included as an example of how many Christians, including Chad Walsh, are baffled by a doctrine that could make God seem so arbitrary. In retrospect, we should have been clearer about the poem’s purpose and should have placed it within the section “Election is baffling” rather than at the end of the sermon notes after the final section, “Election is balm,” which included the statement “Calvin saw election as a doctrine that provides deep comfort and assurance. . . . For those who have accepted Jesus, there are no worries for eternity.” —ERB