You Don’t Have to Untuck Your Shirt (partially) to Follow the OPC

First, it was Christianity Today taking a page from the spirituality of the church.

Second, it was the PCA opening the way to be Presbyterian and not evangelical by leaving the National Association of Evangelicals.

Now comes a review of Jake Meador’s new book which seems to stress aspects of Reformed piety that have long been hallmarks of Orthodox Presbyterian expectations. Meador’s case is for ordinary piety (with no reference to shirt-tails apparently):

Meador argues for a Christian culture in which the faithful desire “a simple life of work and prayer in a particular place among a beloved people” (22). They delight in the created gifts of God and the ordinary means of grace in the church, the preached Word of God, and the blessed sacrament. For readers familiar with the arguments for good work, community, and the practice of Sabbath, Meador adds to the conversation a rich archive of Reformed theology, in particular excerpts from John Calvin’s Bible commentaries. According to philosopher Charles Taylor, one of the themes that arose during the Reformation was “the affirmation of ordinary life.” Meador draws from this theme to make his case for ordinary piety.

He even promotes observing the Lord’s Day:

Meador is interested in the teachings and practices that help us journey toward the Eternal City. For example, he suggests we practice Sabbath: on Sunday we can rest from exploitive economies we don’t admire but in which we are inevitably complicit. Preparing for the week ahead, we seek to return to the rhythms of a world sustained by divine love rather than human effort. For Meador, Sabbath also means attending public worship and perhaps going back to the two-service model in which the evening service would function as a time for theological rigor and catechesis. Churches tend to use the morning sermon to invigorate rather than instruct in the faith. The evening service could help Christians recover traditions of theology that would give them the confidence to understand and practice their religion in the world. In this and other instances, Meador strikes a balance between countercultural practices and recovering the traditional patterns of church life.

Holy moly.

The worry from here is an apparently ecumenical approach which could well turn into eclectic piety:

Even among Anabaptists who argue for a strong separation from the state, there is an emphasis on a life shared in common that runs “with the grain of the universe,” the phrase Hauerwas draws from Yoder for the title of his published Gifford lectures. Meador believes that these Protestant sources, coupled with the social ethics of the Catholic church, can help American evangelicals reorient the church: rather than just being an institution for individual fulfillment, the church ought to act as Christ’s body and minister to the wounds in American society at large, including those inflicted by economic inequality and racial injustice.

From my perspective, evangelicals have for so long lacked any rigor or discipline (which usually comes with confessions, church polity, and liturgy) that recommending other sources will only contribute to the phenomenon of boutique congregationalism. Some will be Hybelsian, others Hauerwasian, and still other’s sacramentalian.

Maybe lacking awareness of one’s shirt-tails has its advantages.

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Blogging is Essential to Being a Christian

That is a conclusion that someone could possible draw from a recent Pew Research Center poll on Christianity in the United States:

The survey shows a clear link between what people see as essential to their faith and their self-reported day-to-day behavior. Simply put, those who believe that behaving in a particular way or performing certain actions are key elements of their faith are much more likely to say they actually perform those actions on a regular basis.

For example, among Christians who say that working to help the poor is essential to what being Christian means to them, about six-in-ten say they donated time, money or goods to help the poor in the past week. By comparison, fewer Christians who do not see helping the poor as central to their religious identity say they worked to help the poor during the previous week (42%).

The same pattern is seen in the survey’s questions about interpersonal interactions, health and social consciousness. Relatively few Christians see living a healthy lifestyle, buying from companies that pay fair wages or protecting the environment as key elements of their faith. But those who do see these things as essential to what it means to be a Christian are more likely than others to say they live a healthy lifestyle (by exercising, for example), consider how a company treats its employees and the environment when making purchasing decisions, or attempt to recycle or reduce waste as much as possible.

Is this circularity (which rivals the motives of credibility) merely a problem of Protestant subjectivity? I don’t think so:

Three-quarters of Catholics say they look to their own conscience “a great deal” for guidance on difficult moral questions. Far fewer Catholics say they look a great deal to the Catholic Church’s teachings (21%), the Bible (15%) or the pope (11%) for guidance on difficult moral questions.

Perhaps most discouraging is how poorly Sabbath observance fares, a weekly activity that winds up ordering all the days so that ceasing from work is possible:

To help explore this question, the survey asked U.S. adults whether each of a series of 16 beliefs and behaviors is “essential,” “important but not essential,” or “not important” to what their religion means to them, personally.

Among Christians, believing in God tops the list, with fully 86% saying belief in God is “essential” to their Christian identity. In addition, roughly seven-in-ten Christians say being grateful for what they have (71%), forgiving those who have wronged them (69%) and always being honest (67%) are essential to being Christian. Far fewer say that attending religious services (35%), dressing modestly (26%), working to protect the environment (22%) or resting on the Sabbath (18%) are essential to what being Christian means to them, personally.

Hearing the Word of God read and preached in the public assembly of the saints? Forget about it.

No Rest, No Worship

I wish Bethany Jenkins would try to find the work for which she trained in law school. To graduate from Columbia, she must be bright. But I’m not sure she has captured the high points of Reformed theology and worship. I think that means that I also wish the Gospel Allies would not give spiritual cheerleaders a platform. (Unlike Las Vegas, what the Kellers enable doesn’t stay in but spreads all over.)

The post that has my jaws clenched today (thanks to our southern correspondent) is one in which Bethany calls for worship that reflects all the ways that God is glorified, especially the work Christians do outside the worship service:

For churches, the question is not just, What is worship?, but also, What kinds of worship should we experience and model when we gather together? Shying away from offering any particular rules, Carson casts a high vision for corporate worship: “Work for a massive display of the glory of God and character and attributes of God.”

That display is not massive, but miniscule, when we limit it to include only work that contributes to our worship services. If we only have church activities in mind when we sing, “Come and see what God has done” (Ps. 66:5), then we miss out on that “massive display” of God’s glory, character, and attributes.

If Ms. Jenkins ever watched The Wire or a Coen Brothers movie she might have a clue about how self-serving this talk of massive displays of God’s glory seems. She is close to saying, even though I’m sure she doesn’t intend it, that worship should be about what WE do during the week. If worship doesn’t expand to include our work and how we think about it, we will miss God’s glory. If we only hear about and meditate on — oh, say — the creation of the world, the call of Abraham, the exodus, the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension, our worship doesn’t capture the big picture of God’s glory. Sure enough, I love it when people compliment me for the books (all about me) I’ve written. I even like it when they talk about the ways (some about me) my writing has helped them understand the gospel or the work of the church. But I thought the point of worship was not all about me. My understanding of Reformed worship was that it was theocentric.

The self-servingness of Jenkins and company’s understanding of work is especially evident when she quotes the formal words of commission that folks at Redeemer NYC give to people who work in professions:

In a world filled with brokenness, confusion, darkness, mourning and loneliness, God has called his people to bring the healing light of the gospel into every sector of our city through every profession, institution, and calling. There is no inch of this city where his gospel cannot redeem.

If you work in mid-town Manhattan, drink a lot of expensive coffee, and roam from wi-fi hotspot to hotpsot, these words may give you the gumption to go out and get things done. But if you’re a pig farmer, or regularly milk cows, or clean toilets, or collect subway tokens, the inspiration that works on mid-town Manhattanites may not be your cup of chai.

Entirely missing from this bloated view of work is the Sabbath setting for worship. The Lord’s Day is one reserved for rest and worship and as the Heidelberg Catechism explains, that rest has soteriological significance:

Question 103. What does God require in the fourth commandment?

Answer: First, that the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained; and that I, especially on the sabbath, that is, on the day of rest, diligently frequent the church of God, to hear his word, to use the sacraments, publicly to call upon the Lord, and contribute to the relief of the poor. Secondly, that all the days of my life I cease from my evil works, and yield myself to the Lord, to work by his Holy Spirit in me: and thus begin in this life the eternal sabbath.

One of the arresting points of redemptive history I am learning from a Sunday school series on the Sabbath taught ably by our pastor is that the Sabbath was almost nowhere to be seen between the creation week and the giving of the law at Sinai. The patriarchs knew no real Sabbath and Israel did not enter into meaningful rest until the saints entered the promised land where they could worship in the holy of holies.

If Ms. Jenkins paid more attention to the Bible and its teaching about worship, rest, and the Lord’s Day, she might reconsider her views about massive displays of God’s glory. A loan, a contract, a consultation, a piece of legislation, a foundation grant, an interview with a reporter might look important if you don’t rest from your labors but carry thoughts of them into worship. But if you take a break and contemplate the remarkable work of God in redeeming a sinful world, you may be able to discern the difference between temporal and eternal things.

Did God Rest In One Day?

Volume four of the Nicotine Theological Journal is now available at the back issues page. Here is a whiff, from the April number:

. . . [Morton] Smith’s study of John Murray is an example of how sabbatarian-creation logic fails. Murray understood as well as anyone the importance of creation for Sabbath-keeping: “The weekly sabbath is based on divine example,” he wrote in Principles of Conduct. “The divine mode of procedure in creation determines one of the basic cycles by which human life here on earth is regulated, namely, the weekly cycle.”

LET US CONCEDE, FOR argument’s sake, that Smith is right about Murray, and that the Scotsman “seem[ed] to have held to the 24-hour creation days.” (Smith acknowledges that this is not “expressly stated” in Murray.) So the world was created in 144 hours, according to Murray. Then what happened? “And he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he made.” But how long was the seventh day? Murray is very clear that that day was not twenty four hours. Here is more from Principles of Conduct: “In the realm of God’s activity in creating the heavens and the earth there were six days of creative activity and one day of rest. There is the strongest presumption in favor of the interpretation that this seventh day is not one that terminated at a certain point in history, but that the whole period of time subsequent to the end of the sixth day is the Sabbath rest alluded to in Genesis 2:2.”

From these citations we are forced to conclude that for Murray a literal six-plus-one creation sequence was unnecessary for the establishment of a literal six-plus-one Sabbath-keeping sequence. However symbolic God’s days were, Murray saw that creation was still revealed in such a way as to establish the weekly Sabbath as a creation ordinance. So the logic of Sabbath-creationism collapses. And if the seventh day is not literal, why do the first six days have to be?

Although Smith’s essay claims to survey American Presbyterian thought on creation, including the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, it is largely focused on recent PCA debates, and he neglects OPC reflection on the matter except to speculate on the views of Murray and Cornelius Van Til. This is unfortunate because he omits the 1968 resolution of the OPC’s Presbytery of Southern California (comprised of Murray’s and Van Til’s students), which we believe has not been surpassed as a summary of the biblical and confessional teaching on creation. We republish those eight affirmations in hopes that they will gain a greater reading:

1. The one true and living God existed alone in eternity, and beside Him there was no matter, energy, space or time.

2. The one true and living God, according to His Sovereign decree, determined to create, or make of nothing, the world and all things therein, whether visible or invisible.

3. God performed His creative work in six days. (We recognize different interpretations of the word “day” and do not feel that one interpretation is to be insisted upon to the exclusion of others.)

4. That no part of the universe nor any creature in it came into being by chance or by any power other than that of the Sovereign God.

5. That God created man, male and female, after His own image, and as God’s image bearer man possesses an immortal soul. Thus man is distinct from all other earthly creatures even though his body is composed of the elements of his environment.

6. That when God created man, it was God’s inbreathing that constituted man a living creature, and thus God did not impress His image upon some pre-existing living creature.

7. That the entire human family has descended from the first human pair, and, with the one exception of Christ, this descent has been by ordinary generation.

8. That man, when created by God, was holy. Then God entered into a covenant of works with the one man Adam. In the covenant Adam represented his posterity, and thus when he violated the requirement, all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him and fell with him into an estate of sin.

CONTEMPORARY CRITICS OF these affirmations might charge them with sanctioning a “poetic” creation account. If so, it bears noting that, contrary to the slippery-slope fears of the Sabbath-creationists, neither Murray’s eternal Sabbath nor the presbytery’s interpretive openness have cultivated in the OPC, thirty years later, a “poetic Sabbath,” that is, observable decline in Sabbath-keeping. The lesson to be drawn, it seems, is this: if Sabbath-breaking is the ultimate concern of the watchdogs from Taylors, South Carolina, they had better look for causes elsewhere than in one’s interpretation of the days of Genesis one and two.

William Hayward Wilson

Why Not Simply Cite God's Law?

Our Virginia correspondent sent word of a reminder from the deities of the NFL to churches about legal and illegal Super Bowl festivities:

(1) Churches may only show the game on equipment that they regularly use for worship. They may not bring in additional rented audio-visual equipment.
(2) Churches may not charge admission. They are, however, allowed to take donations to defray party expenses.
(3) Churches may not record or further retransmit the broadcast of the game.

Apparently the separation of church and state does not extend to football and church.

If the NFL had simply reminded Christians of the need to keep the Lord’s Day holy, they could have cut through the fine print. But this way, the footballers get the best of both kingdoms (which is not a good thing if you are certain church in Laodicia).

The Two-Kingdom Case for Blue Laws

Rendell and Eagles
(Not to be confused with the “Blue Letter.”)

In 1933, the years the Philadelphia Eagles football club started (thank you Dan Borvan), the state of Pennsylvania considered reforming its laws prohibiting commercial activity on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, so that football players and coaches could play in the afternoon. (How would the NFL make it without violating the fourth and eighth commandments?) J. Gresham Machen, then a resident of Philadelphia, wrote a letter to Gifford Pinchot, the governor of Pennsylvania and requested the retention of the Blue Laws as they were then written.

Machen’s reasoning in this letter is instructive for what it says about a recognition and acceptance of religious diversity, a commitment to religious freedom, and the tensions within a democracy between majority rule and minority protection. Perhaps most important for two-kingdom purposes is the place of an appeal to Scripture in public debate. In this case, Machen argues not for the magistrate to enforce divine law, but for the advantages that come to everyone when the law protects the practices of some citizens.

Not to be missed is what this letter says about the fourth commandment, and that keeping the whole day holy with two services is an occasion of Christian liberty. If only the Bible speaks to all of life crowd would take up the cause of the sanctity of the Lord’s Day. (Do we see a pattern here? Two kingdoms, two services?)

April 20, 1933

The Honorable Gifford Pinchot
Governor of Pennsylvania
Harrisburg, Pa.

Dear Sir:

Will you permit me to express, very respectfully, my opposition to the Bill designated “House Bill No. 1″ regarding permission of commercialized sport between the hours of two and six on Sunday afternoons?

It is clear that in this matter of Sunday legislation the liberty of part of the people will have to be curtailed. It is impossible that people who desire a quiet Sunday should have a quiet Sunday, while at the same time people who desire commercialized sport on Sunday should have commercialized sport. The permission of commercialized sport will necessarily change the character of the day for all of the people and not merely for part of the people.

The only question, therefore, is whose liberty is to be curtailed. I am convinced that in this case it ought, for the welfare of the whole people, to be the liberty of those who desire commercialized sport.

The curtailment of their liberty, through the existing law, does not, I am convinced, go beyond reasonable bounds. There is, it seems to me, a sharp distinction of principle between complete prohibition of some form of activity or enjoyment and reasonable regulation of it in the interest of other people. To ask that commercialized sport should dispense with one day out of seven for the benefit of that large part of our population that desires a quiet Sunday and believes that it is necessary to the welfare of the State does not seem to me to be unreasonable.

Of course it is perfectly clear that in a democracy the majority should rule in this matter as in other matters. I should be the last to advocate any attempt to make people religious or even to make people ordinarily moral or decent against their will by mere legislative enactment. I should also be the last to advocate any tyrannical imposition of the convictions of a minority upon the majority. But how shall the majority will be exercised? I think that it ought to be exercised through the ordinary processes of representative government. To allow commercialized sport on Sunday in Pennsylvania will be a radical change in the whole life of our people. It is a wise provision of representative government that such radical changes should not be hastily accomplished, as might be the case by the referendum vote, but that they should be accomplished only when it is quite clear that the majority of the people really and seriously and permanently desires the change. . . .

As to the merits of the question, I could hardly find words strong enough to express what my feeling is. It does seem to me that the profoundest dangers to our entire civilization are found in the constant rush of noise and jazz and feverish activity which is one of the great faults of the American people and which is a great barrier to true efficiency as well as to the cultivation of the deeper things.

Of course, my own cultivation of a quiet Sunday is based on considerations much more fundamental than these. I am a Christian, and it is quite clear that a commercialized Sunday is inimical to the Christian religion. There are many other Christians in Pennsylvania, and because they are Christians they do not cease to be citizens. They have a right to be considered by their fellow-citizens and by the civil authorities. But the reason why they can with a good conscience be enthusiastic advocates of the Christian practice in the matter of Sunday is that they regard it as right, and as for the highest well-being of the entire State.

Very truly yours,

J. Gresham Machen, Professor of New Testament in Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia

Postscript: over at David Strain’s blog come a couple of helpful posts about sabbath observance. As a native Scot, Strain knows first-hand about patterns of sabbatarianism among Old World Presbyterians, both mainline and sideline. In fact, during a Hart expedition to Scotland a decade ago, Mrs. Hart and her husband were delighted to see that even the Church of Scotland congregations conducted morning and evening service. This contrasts with the practice of one service among conservative Reformed and Presbyterians in the United States where supposedly Reformed Christianity is doing better.

Strain also mentions one of the common complaints about sabbatarianism – that is it legalistic. Well here is one radical two-kingdom virus carrier who also fully supports the supposed legalism of sabbath observance. In fact, the critics of 2k ought to consider where the leading 2k voices are on matters like the fourth commandment and the regulative principle of worship (as in the second commandment). Antinomian? Reconsider.