Liturgy Trap: Angelic Celibacy

Here is the key question:  should we place Mary in the context of her Hebrew background (see Judges 11:37-40) or in the thought patters of St Jerome?  The strongest argument that Mary had sexual relations with Joseph after Jesus’s birth is the text itself.   I know of the backbending anchorites engage in to make the text say the opposite of what it says.  It simply doesn’t work.

In the bible perpetual virginity is a tragedy (47).

The strongest argument for perpetual virginity is that Joseph would have been overawed by Mary’s high calling in giving birth to God himself that he wouldn’t have “polluted” her womb with dirty sex afterwards (Peter Gillquist, Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith, Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1989, 118).    Here are the problems with such a view:

  1. Even if correct, it is pure speculation.
  2. If one partner refused sex to the other, he/she would have grounds to divorce the other (Exodus 21:10-11).
  3. Neither Mary nor Joseph knew that Jesus was God incarnate until after his resurrection.  They would have known he was called, perhaps even Messiah, but that didn’t mean Logos Incarnate (51).

Angelic Celibacy

Roman Catholicism is guiltier of this than Orthodoxy, though both share the same unbiblical presuppositions.  If we may reason analogically, the High Priest is sort of an analogue to the Bishop today.  Yet the High Priest could marry.  Why may not the Bishop?

Secondly, God has said that celibacy is “not good.”   The entire scale of being ontology falls with those two words.

Liturgy Trap: Two Stage Christianity

Jordan’s specific target in this chapter is the rite of confirmation.  I want to expand the sights.   If you are in the “Really True Church” and I am not, yet you are kind enough to consider me a “Christian,” then the only conclusion one can draw is that I am a second-class Christian.  Yet the New Testament knows nothing of this.  Jesus gives his Spirit as an arrabon to his people.  Full Stop.

Two-Stage Christianity is simply an advanced form of gnosticism.

Apostolic Succession

A true apostolic succession is the royal priesthood which is succession through baptism.

If we want to wax Trinitarian, then the Church is a creation of the Spirit from eternity by procession, not succession (46).

Liturgy Trap: Veneration

The Second Commandment

There is no problem with the actual act of bowing.  The problem is “to what do we people in the context of worship and liturgy?”  The second commandment is very clear that we are never to bow in giving veneration toward man-made objects (24).

The second commandment isn’t saying there should be no pictures of God (a point for another day), but that no image of anything can be set up as an avenue of worship to God and the court of heaven (24).

Only one pesel

Pesel is the Hebrew word for “carving.”  Jordan neatly takes the argument a step forward by pointing out that “there is another pesel in the Book of Exodus:  The Ten Words, which God carved with his own finger” (26).  “The opposition is between God’s content-filled graven Words and man’s silent graven images.”

God’s pesel is how he relates to us.  The relationship is verbal.  It is personal.  “It is God-initiated.”  Jordan comments, “When men set up a pesel it is always man-initiated” (27).  “The ‘veneration’ of man’s pesel is not a conversation with God, but prostration before a man-made object.”  This is the one objection even the most articulate anchorite cannot answer: is conversation–words–possible?

Anchorites love to counter that “Well, God commanded Israel to make various carvings.”  So he did. We say, however, “what is prohibited is the creation of a contact-point with God in the likeness of other creatures” (28).

Jordan makes an interesting observation:  nowhere in the Hebrew scriptures do we see God’s people condemned for making a picture of God.  Rather, they make up images of God and use them as mediators (29).

Application

“God initiates the mediation between himself and us, and He controls it” (29).  “God’s mediation is verbal…God’s mediation is his pesel, the Word.  Manmade mediators are images.”

Jordan concludes the chapter with a reflection on God’s 4th generation curse on image-worshipers.

Liturgical Trap: What is the Trap?

Jordan defines the “Liturgy Trap” as seeing worship as a technique for evangelism (xiv).  Whatever else our liturgy may be, it must always be a response to the Word of God.  Said another way: The Word of God comes first.  The rest of the introduction explains why evangelicals would be tempted to high church traditions.  Since that’s is fairly well-documented by theologians and sociologists (Christian Smith et al), I won’t belabor the point.

The Saints

Should we venerate the saints?  We should at least ask, “What does the Bible say?”  Critics might respond, “Yeah, well the Bible doesn’t say anything about the term T rinity, either” (this is a specific quote from Orthodox Bridge).  True, but assuming the Bible to be part of tradition (which I don’t assume), shouldn’t we at least pretend it is the most important part?

Jordan first notes there is no biblical warrant to pray to saints (18).  Since the disciples asked Jesus specifically how to pray, and he gave them a specific template, it is telling that venerating saints is absent.  Jordan then gives the standard biblical arguments against necromancy,  pointing out that Saul was condemned for talking to the dead Samuel.

Interestingly, had the early Christians talked to dead people, the Jews and Judaizers would have had a field day condemning them, yet we don’t see that.

Jordan writes,

The notion that the saints can hear our petitions means that a given saint can hear thousands of petitions coming from people all over the world.  This means that the saint has become virtually omnipresent.  What happens when that saint gets his resurrection body and is once again limited to being in one place at one time? (21)

Of course, and my critics hate to hear this, but this is a movement back towards chain of being and Hellenistic philosophy.

Losing the liturgical wars

If you want a good summary on why fighting the culture wars is a bad idea (and a corollary:  why theonomy failed to change anything), I recommend Leithart’s  The Kingdom and the Power.  (This is before he went full FV, and P&R published it, so it is safe).

We can even find a Covenanter angle to this if we want to:   Reforming worship.

This might even give content to the utterly meaningless statement by Calvinists today:  “Reformed and Always Reforming.”  I ask young turk Calvinists what that statement means and I usually get something along the lines of “Publishing a new tract on the 5 Points.”    “Always Reforming,” no matter how often it is abused, connotes “motion” and movement; not repeating the same stuff over and over.

Practical Reforming:

Start singing the psalms in worship.

Have a denomination sponsor a critical evaluation of the Red Trinity hymnal.

For those in the South, start looking for Baptistic elements in your service and ask why they are there.

For those in the North, stop imitating Redeemer Presbyterian models.

There you go: in one minute I have given four concrete reasons for “Reformed and Always Reforming.”   Publishing a new tract on TULIP won’t revitalize your church.   Reforming worship will.

On Dominant Psalmody

My position–which I won’t debate at the moment with my more Covenanter-ish friends–is Dominant Psalmody.   The Psalms in their entirety should comprise the majority of private and public liturgical devotion.   The burden of proof should always be on the one who says we shouldn’t sing God’s word (even though God commanded us to sing his word, Eph. 5:19).  With that said, however, I am not exegetically convinced that there is no place for hymns.  I am not going to give huge detail on why or why not.   I have no interest in defending hymns at large, especially the saccharine revivalistic hymns.   But my own convictions lead me to conclude that some hymns aren’t sinful.   But that’s not the point of this post.

One of the recent New Horizons (March 2014) by the OPC examined the Psalm-singing debate.  Well, not actually.  It explored the ramifications of introducing more psalm-singing (specifically, a new psalter) into the life of the congregation.   Some of the articles (Eric Watkins and others) were quite good on redemptive history and the psalms, if not actually giving an analysis of the discussion.  However, one pastor argues that we shouldn’t sing all 150 psalms (p. 7).  He says God hasn’t commanded us to sing all psalms.  He notes (probably correctly) this has been the consensus of the OPC committee.

What to make of this argument?  I want to be respectful because I came from the OPC and I don’t like criticizing the OPC (remember the rock whence you are hewn).  However, it appears sophistic.  God commands us to sing psalms. True, he didn’t say “all 150,” but that’s like taking Paul’s injunction “to preach the Word” as meaning, “Yeah, but we don’t have to preach the whole bible.”   Sed contra, the hymn singer has to give the justification on why songs by Wesleyans and Pentecostals and anybody from the 1970s gets precedent over God’s word.   God or somebody who says we need a second blessing to be fully saved?  It’s not a hard choice (and for the record, I like “And Can it be?”  However, at the end of the day even Psalm 137 necessarily gets priority).

But back to the article:  The author claims that many of the Psalms “flow out of the Mosaic covenant,” which is obsolete (8).  He doesn’t give any examples, but then goes on to speak of “The Old Testament.” This is bizarre, since the New testament sees Psalms 8 and 110 as proof-texts for the New Covenant, and Psalm 89 is the locus classicus for the Davidic Covenant. Reformed theology, however, does not identify the Mosaic Covenant with the Old Testament.   In fact, since David wrote most of the psalms, would it not better to speak of their being in the Davidic Covenant, which is very much a reality for believers today (Acts 2; Jesus being identified as the Davidic King)?  In the second column on page 8 he says the imprecatory psalms are incompatible with Christian piety.   We are on the edge of Marcionism here.  Most amazingly, he writes that Christian’s suffering today cannot be identified with that of the Psalmists (3rd column, p. 8).  He may be the only person in Christendom who has ever said that.  In fact, if what he is arguing is true, not only should we not sing the psalms, maybe we shouldn’t even pray or read them!

Continuing in a veiled Marcionite strain, he says the attitude towards other nations changed.  While he admits that the Old Testament does see the fullness of the Gentiles coming in, he says this is not the psalms’ approach to other nations.  Presumably, the psalmists (though writing under the Holy Spirit) wanted God to kill the other nations.   It’s a strange argument.  Among other psalms, 22 and 72 prophecy the in-gathering of Gentiles.

Reading that article makes me want to apologize to James Jordan (just a little bit).  For all the wacky things he has said, he has also vigorously argued for more psalm-singing in church.   Even more, he has given practical and step by step ways to introduce it into the church.  We might be uncomfortable with the idea of chanting, but we must remember that everyone from Ireland to India chanted the Psalms, and for a specific reason:  memory.  In the ancient church you could not have been a bishop without having memorized the Psalms (and at least one gospel).    When he advocated an army of Psalm Chanters to change the world, he practically clinched the debate.   The negative of this is what happens when you don’t sing Psalms.

At this point I had planned to do a review of the Red Trinity Hymnal, but that would make the post unnecessarily long.