Saturday, July 19, 2014

Vae Nobis Miseris, a Jesus Antiphon

In many religious foundations of the mid-sixteenth century it was required that there be 'an Anteme in prycksong immediately that complayn be fully done' so as to foster the devotion of the laity to the Virgin and also to the name and Passion of Jesus. Eventually the Jesus-antiphon increased in vogue as the cult of the Virgin declined during the reign of Henry VIII. One such antiphon is Vae Nobis Miseris.

Woe to us wretches, since we have no small fear when we consider the sins that we have committed, and understand the punishments that we must suffer for them. Why then, shall we remain almost in desperation, without advice, without help? No! But we run in haste to Thee, Jesus Christ, the fount of pity and mercy, in whom we have seen and acknowledge so many and such great sinners absolved. We therefore beseech Thee, our Lord and God, give us thy glory so that, rising from our vices and from the death of the soul, we may ever flourish in virtues and walk in the firmness of faith, that we may seek and savour the things that are above, not the things that are on earth. We render thanks to Thee, good Jesus, for the gifts of thy grace that Thou hast begun in us, and we beg that Thou shouldst mercifully perfect them in us, and guide us into the way of salvation. By virtue of thy brightness cleanse our souls from the darkness of sins, and by that same virtue may our flesh rise again to glory on the day of the universal resurrection, so that in the future resurrection we may joyfully hear thy tender summons amongst thine elect as Thou sayest 'Come, ye blessed ones of my Father, receive the Kingdom which has been prepared for you from the beginning of the world.' Amen.

The Throne of Mercy
Colijn de Coter
(c. 1440- c. 1530)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Hark, My Soul, John Austin (1613-69)

The Risen Christ
reredos of the
Lesley Lindsey Chapel
Emmanuel Church, Boston
Ninian Comper (1921-24)

Hark, my soul, how everything
strives to serve our bounteous King;
each a double tribute pays,
sings its parts, and then obeys.

Nature's chief and sweetest choir
him with cheerful notes admire;
chanting every day their lauds,
while the grove their song applauds.

Though their voices lower be,
streams have too their melody;
night and day they warbling run,
never pause, but still sing on.

All the flowers that gild the spring
hither their still music bring;
if heaven bless them, thankful,
they smell more sweet, and look more gay.

Only we can scarce afford
this short office to our Lord;
we, on whom his bounty flows,
all things gives, and nothing owes.

Wake! for shame, my sluggish heart,
wake! and gladly sing thy part;
learn of birds, and springs, and flowers,
how to use thy nobler powers.

Call whole nature to thy aid;
since 'twas he whole nature made;
join in one eternal song,
who to one God all belong.

Live forever, glorious Lord!
Live by all thy works adored,
One in Three, and Three in One,
thrice we bow to thee alone.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

East window, St Andrew, Whissendine, C.E. Kempe (1892)

The strong blue caste of this window is typical of Kempe's work from the 1890s. Arranged in its lower panels are scenes from Christ's early life- the Nativity, the Christ Child and his mother Mary, and the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Above is the Crucifixion flanked by the Agony in the Garden and the Deposition. The uppermost lights contain variously angels, the Four Doctors of the Church, and the Four Evangelists.

Thought designed on a much smaller scale, in colour and in composition Kempe's design recalls glass of the kind made for King's College Chapel in the early sixteenth century.

detail, east window,
King's College, Cambridge
Gaylon Hone and others

The Ordinary Means of Growth, Ligon Duncan (Tabletalk Magazine, 1 October 2007)

We are living in a confused and confusing time for confessional Christians (Christians who are anchored by a public and corporate theological commitment to be faithful to the Bible’s teaching on faith and practice as expounded by the great confessions of the Protestant Reformation). We are witnessing the final demise of theological liberalism, the rise of Pentecostalism, the beginnings of the so-called emerging church movement, the breakdown of evangelicalism, and an utter discombobulation about how the church is to conduct its life and ministry in an increasing 'post-Christian' culture. All around us, in the name of reaching the culture with the Gospel, we see evangelical churches compromising (usually without intending to) in both message and methods.

It is not uncommon today to hear certain buzz-words and catch phrases that are meant to capture and articulate new (and presumably more culturally-attuned) approaches to ministry: 'Purpose-driven,' 'missional,' 'contextualization,' 'word and deed,' 'ancient-future,' 'emerging/emergent,' 'peace and justice.' Now, to be sure, there are points, diagnoses, and emphases entailed in each of these terms and concepts that are helpful, true, and timely. Sadly, however, the philosophies of ministry often associated with this glossary are also often self-contrasted with the historic Christian view of how the church lives and ministers. That view is often called 'the ordinary means of grace' view of ministry.

The fundamental assumption underlying these new approaches is that 'everything has changed,' and so our methods must change. I would want to dispute both parts of that equation. Whatever the entailments of our present cultural moment, constituent human nature has not changed (as R.C. Sproul often reminds us). And thus the fundamental human problem has not changed. Neither has the Gospel solution to it. Nor have the effectiveness of God’s Gospel means. Furthermore, one of the things that has always marked faithful and effective Christian ministry in every era and area of the world is a confidence in God’s Word, both in the Gospel message and in Gospel means. Faith still comes by hearing.

In sum, there are basically three views of Gospel ministry. There are those who think that effective cultural engagement requires an updating of the message. There are those who think that effective ministry requires an updating of our methods. And there are those who think that effective ministry begins with a pre-commitment to God’s message and methods, set forth in His Word.

Thus, liberalism said that the Gospel won’t work unless the message is changed. Modern evangelicalism (and not just in its 'seeker-sensitive' and postmodern permutations) has often said that the Gospel won’t work unless our methods are changed. But those committed to an 'ordinary means' approach to church life and ministry say the Gospel works, and God has given us both the method and the message. This is vitally important in a time where one of the dominant story-lines in the churches has been that of methods unwittingly, unhelpfully, and unbiblically altering both the message and the ministry.

Ordinary means of grace-based ministry is ministry that focuses on doing the things God, in the Bible, says are central to the spiritual health and growth of His people, and which aims to see the qualities and priorities of the church reflect biblical norms. Ordinary means ministry is thus radically committed to biblical direction of the priorities of ministry. Ordinary means ministry believes that God has told us the most important things, not only about the truth we are to tell, but about the way we are to live and minister- in any and every context. Hence, God has given us both the message of salvation and the means of gathering and building the church, in His Word. However, important understanding our context is, however important understanding the times may be (and these things are, in fact, very important), however important appreciating the cultural differences in the places and times we serve, the ordinary means approach to ministry is first and foremost concerned with biblical fidelity. Because faithfulness is relevance. The Gospel is the message and the local church is the plan. God has given to his church spiritual weapons for the bringing down of strongholds. These ordinary means of grace are the Word, sacraments, and prayer.

They may seem weak in the eyes of the worldly strong. They may seem foolish in the eyes of the worldly wise. But the Gospel message is the power of God unto salvation, and the Gospel means are effectual to salvation. These are the Spiritual instruments given by God with which Christian congregational Spiritual life is nurtured, the Spirit’s tools of grace and growth in grace appointed by God in the Bible.

So, when we say ordinary means of grace-based ministry, we mean a radical commitment to following the direction of God’s Word as to both the message and the means of gathering and perfecting the saints. Ordinary means ministry has a high view of the Bible, preaching, the church, the ordinances or sacraments, and prayer. Ordinary means ministry believes that the key things that the church can do in order to help people know God and grow in their knowledge of God are: First, emphasize the public reading and preaching of the Word; second, emphasize the confirming, sanctifying and assuring efficacy of the sacraments, publicly administered; and third, emphasize a life of prayer, especially expressed corporately in the church. These things are central and vital but sadly often under-emphasized, under-appreciated, and undermined.

Ordinary means of grace-based ministry believes that God means what He says in the Bible about the central importance of these public, outward instruments for spiritual life and growth. God explicitly instructs ministers and churches to do the following things: 'devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching' (1 Tim. 4:13); 'preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching' (2 Tim. 4:2); 'make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you' (Matt. 28:19); 'take, eat; this is my body... which is for you... drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins; this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes' (Matt. 26:26–28; 1 Cor. 11:25–26); 'I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made... I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands' (1 Tim. 2:1, 8).

These are the main ways God’s people grow. We are saved by grace (alone), through faith (alone), in Christ (alone). But the instruments, the tools of God’s grace to bring us to faith and grow us in grace are the Word, prayer, and sacraments. Nothing else we do in the church’s program of ministry should detract from these central instruments of grace, and indeed everything else we do should promote and coalesce with them.

This means, among other things, that ministry is not rocket science. Gospel faithfulness does not require the minister to be a sociologist. Because ministry is not determined (in the first place) by reading the culture but by reading the Word of God. The ordinary means minister wants to connect with the culture, but when it comes to determining method and priorities he moves from text to ministry, not from culture to ministry. He neither changes his message nor his methods based on the polling of the most recent focus group (though he strives to be fully cognizant of the obstacles and opportunities that his biblical message and methods face in his particular cultural context). He fully understands that there is no such thing as an unsituated biblical ministry, or an uncontextualized ministry (and so is careful not to universalize his particular cultural moment, nor to confuse it with universal, biblical norms). He also fully appreciates that some churches have unhelpfully baptized cultural norms and methods from the past, without realizing that baneful cultural influence. But he also knows that many churches, in the quest to contextualize the Gospel and the ministry, have in fact compromised them.

So he’s constantly going back and asking 'what are my marching orders?' And when he remembers, it doesn’t require a PhD in semiotics to interpret them: preach the Word, love the people, pray down heaven, disciple the elders, promote family religion, live a godly life. And what are the church’s marching orders: delight in the Lord’s Day, gathering with the saints to drink in the pure milk of the Word every Sunday morning and evening, as families; pray together as a congregation once every week; worship and catechize at home in families; love one another and all men.

What will a church look like that is committed to the ordinary means of grace? It will be characterized by love for expository Bible preaching, passion for worship, delight in truth, embrace of the Gospel, the Spirit’s work of conversion, a life of godliness; robust family religion; biblical evangelism, biblical discipleship, biblical church membership, mutual accountability in the church, biblical church leadership, and a desire to be a blessing to the nations. Along with this all, there will be an unapologetic, humble, and joyful celebration of the transcendent sovereignty of the one, true, triune God in salvation and all things.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

East window, St John the Baptist, Aldenham, Christopher Webb (mid-20th century)

Both Christopher and his brother Geoffrey were articled to Ninian Comper and the bright colours of their teacher, along with his late affinity for clear background glass, show through in this elegantly designed window representing Christ in Majesty flanked by (from left to right) St Alban, the Virgin Mary, St John the Baptist, and St Paulinus. Also by Webb is the gilded and coloured reredos below the window. In keeping is the Classical altar rail which may have been designed by him as well. The ensemble coordinates well with the sanctuary floor mosaic by Heaton, Butler & Bayne dating from 1890.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How Shall I Sing That Majesty?, John Mason (1683)

Though sung more often today to Ken Naylor's tune 'Coe Fen', Ralph Vaughan Williams set this hymn to Tallis' 'Third Mode Melody' in the 1906 edition of The English Hymnal. Originally composed in 1567 for Archbishop Parker's Psalter, Tallis' composition better suits the rhythm of Mason's text. It deserves reviving.

How shall I sing that Majesty which angels do admire?
Let dust in dust and silence lie; sing, sing, ye heavenly choir.
Thousands of thousands stand around thy throne, O God most high;
ten thousand times ten thousand sound thy praise; but who am I?

Thy brightness unto them appears, whilst I thy footsteps trace;
a sound of God comes to my ears, but they behold thy face.
They sing because thou art their Sun; Lord, send a beam on me;
for where heaven is but once begun there alleluias be.

Enlighten with faith's light my heart, inflame it with love's fire;
then shall I sing and bear a part with that celestial choir.
I shall, I fear, be dark and cold, with all my fire and light;
yet when thou dost accept their gold, Lord, treasure up my mite.

How great a being, Lord, is thine, which doth all beings keep!
Thy knowledge is the only line to sound so vast a deep.
Thou art a sea without a shore, a sun without a sphere;
thy time is now and evermore, thy place is everywhere.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

'Ministry as More than a Helping Profession'- Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon

This article was first published in The Christian Century, March 15, 1989.

Parish clergy and seminarians today seem content to have ministry numbered among the 'helping professions.' After all, most professing Christians, from the liberals to the fundamentalists, remain practical atheists. They think the church is sustained by the services it provides or the amount of fellowship and good feeling in the congregation. This form of sentimentality has become the most detrimental corruption of the church and the ministry.

Sentimentality is that attitude of being always ready to understand but not to judge. Without God, without the one whose death on the cross challenges all our good feelings, who stands beyond and over against our human anxieties, all we have left is sentiment, a saccharine residue of theism in demise. Sentimentality is the way our unbelief is lived out.

If the ministry is reduced to being primarily a helping profession, then parish clergy will also be destroyed by the presumption that all sincerely felt needs are legitimate needs. Ministry will be trivialized into the service of needs.

This problem is compounded by the fact that ministers are often people who need to help people. They like to be liked and need to be needed. Their personal needs become the basis for their ministry. Underestimating how terribly deep other people's needs can be, they enter ministry with an insufficient sense of personal boundaries, and are devoured by the voracious appetites of people in need. One day they may awake to find that they have sacrificed family, self-esteem, health and happiness for a bunch of selfish people who have eaten them alive. Pastors then come to despise what they are and to hate the community that made them that way. The pastor realizes that people's needs are virtually limitless, particularly in an affluent society in which there is an ever-rising threshold of desire (which we define as 'need'). With no clear job description, no clear sense of purpose other than the meeting of people's needs, there is no possible way for the pastor to limit what people ask of the pastor.

Some say the clergy should develop more self-esteem, be more assertive, learn to say No, demand a day off-- in brief, become as self-centered as many of the people in their congregations. Our society tends to respond to the problem of lack of meaning and purpose by telling people that they will feel better if they more fully develop their egos. Go more deeply within for the solution rather than look outside yourself for help. In a godless society, where there really is not much outside ourselves but our own self-projections, this is probably the best advice one could expect.

But that is not how we find our meaning and purpose as Christians. What needs to happen among the clergy has to do with the church. When the church lacks confidence in what it is, clergy have no idea what they should be doing. Appropriate, realistic, interesting expectations for the clergy are derived from the purpose of the church. Meaning in ministry originates in baptism, understood as a communal undertaking. This insight was revealed to one new pastor when, thinking that he had at last won enough of his congregation's trust to push through one of his programs, he suggested opening a day-care center. The Christian education committee met to discuss the proposal.

Gladys butted in, 'Why is the church in the day-care business? How would this be a part of the ministry of the church?'

The young pastor patiently went over his reasons: it was a good use of the building, it would attract young families, it was another source of income, and the Baptists down the street already had a day-care center.

'And besides, Gladys,' said Henry Smith, 'you know that it's getting harder every day to put food on the table. Both husband and wife must have full-time jobs.'

'That's not true,' said Gladys. 'You know it's not true. It is not hard for anyone in this church, for anyone in this neighborhood, to put food on the table. There are people in this town for whom putting food on the table is quite a challenge, but I haven't heard any talk about them. If we are talking about ministry to them, then I'm in favor of the idea. No, what we're talking about, is, ministry to those for whom it has become harder every day to have two cars, a VCR, a place at the lake or a motor home. I just hate to see the church telling these young couples that somehow their marriage will be better or their family life more fulfilling if they can only get some other piece of junk. The church ought to be courageous enough to say, "That's a lie. Things don't make a marriage or a family."'

The young pastor had been conditioned to assume that real ministry was about 'helping people.' Of course, Jesus helped people and commissioned us to do the same. The trouble begins when we assume that we already know what 'helping people' looks like.

Gladys led the church to the task of interpretation. She did not tell the congregation what to do. Rather, she invited the pastor to make his case in such a way that the church had the opportunity to interpret itself in light of who God is. Because Gladys understood her baptismally mandated ministry to live in the world in the light of the gospel rather than by conventional social wisdom, she gave her pastor an opportunity to understand his ordained ministry: namely, to equip the congregation to live in the light of the gospel.

In questioning the church's worldview, she drove the church back to the communal and ecclesial question that is fundamental to the church's staying the church: what sort of community would we have to be in order to be the sort of people who live by our convictions?

One answer lies in the first real crisis to hit the young Jerusalem church at one of its meetings.

A man named Ananias with his wife Sapphira sold a piece of property, and with his wife's knowledge he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostle's feet. But Peter said, 'Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land?... You have not lied to people but to God.' When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died... The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, 'Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.' And she said, 'Yes, for so much.' But Peter said to her, 'How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Hark, the feet of those that have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.' Immediately she fell down at his feet and died... And great fear came upon the whole church... [Acts 5: 1 -11].

In ending the stark account of Ananias and Sapphira, Luke uses the word 'church' for the first time in Acts. Here, in struggling to be truthful about possessions, the church experienced itself as a disciplined community of truthfulness. Peter accuses Ananias and Sapphira not of greed, but of lying. Their lies are quite natural, like the way we rationalize and excuse our own greed: 'It's getting harder to put food on the table.' But their lies are confronted in the church, in the person of Peter. To our ears, Luke tells the story in a harsh, uncompromising tone, and the image of Peter in Acts 5 clashes with our conventional pictures of the good pastor. Peter should have dealt more gently with Ananias and Sapphira. With a good course in pastoral counseling, Peter would have been able to see that, while Ananias and Sapphira may have been affluent, they had their own problems. Why didn't Peter enable them to find more meaningful and productive lives rather than confront them in such a way as to shock them to death?

Forsaking the socially acceptable vocation of helping people live just a bit less miserably, Peter confronted Ananias and Sapphira with a radical vision of the sort of church God had called them to be part of. Luke tells this story to hold up the manner of life God intends for us. We are therefore not to ask such diversionary questions as, How could a thing like this happen? Rather we should ask, What sort of community would we need to enable this sort of church (a church of truthful commonality) to exist?

We might say that we tolerate Ananias and Sapphira because we are called to a ministry of service and compassion, even when people are wealthy liars. In other words, we have more love than Peter had in Acts. We deceive ourselves. We do not believe in Ananias and Sapphira as much as Peter believed in them. We cannot imagine any means of breaking out of our materialism, so we dare not risk the truth-telling of Acts 5.

As pastors, letting ourselves off the hook by appealing to our sympathy for people's fragility and limits robs us of some of our most rewarding opportunities to confirm our ministry in a church that really looks like a church rather than a social club. Pastors too eagerly forsake the gospel story, a story that Gladys was not willing to forget. Pastors should insist that people linger long enough with the story to be thrown in the dilemma to which the church is the necessary response.

When they are being faithful to their vocation, pastors orient the church toward God. As Acts 5 shows, this is a terrifying task. The congregation may burst forth in exuberant spirit (Acts 2) or they may drop dead of fear (Acts 5). Through Peter's pastoral care, the church lost two of its more prominent members. Yet, at the same time, the church first experienced itself as church, first used the word ecclesia to describe what it was. In Luke's wonderfully laconic, almost humorous verdict, 'And great fear came upon the whole church.' It is a fearful thing to realize how petty our definitions of 'pastoral care' are when placed next to Acts 5. 

Not long ago, in a Bible study for pastors on Luke-Acts, one of us told the story of Ananias and Sapphira. Some of the pastors laughed at the absurdity of people dropping dead and being carried out. Others were horrified that anyone could believe that God approves of killing people. The group was asked, 'Has anybody here ever had to kill someone to save the church?'

'Yes--in a way,' answered someone in the back. 'I preached on the race issue in a little southern town. The schools were integrating. It was tense. I was warned by the board to tone down my preaching on the issue. When I didn't, five families left the church. Four of them never became members of any church again. My husband asked me, "Is it worth alienating people from the church forever over one issue?" Good question. Is it worth provoking a coronary in a couple over a little thing like a piece of real estate?'

Pastors too often learn to pacify rather than preach to their Ananiases and Sapphiras. We say we do it out of love. Usually we do it as a means of keeping everyone as distant from everyone else as possible. This accounts for why, to many people, church seems superficial. Everybody agrees to talk about everything here except what matters. The loneliness and detachment of modern life, the way we are all made strangers, infects the church too. The church is frighteningly dependent upon leaders like Gladys who enable the church to look toward God.

The church at worship continues to be the acid test for all parish ministry. In our worship, we retell and are held accountable to the story about what God is doing with us in Christ. All ministry can be evaluated by essentially liturgical criteria: How well does this act of ministry enable people to be with God?

Almost everything a pastor does can be an opportunity to orient people toward God. Visiting the sick can be much more than empathetic sharing (after all, anybody can do that, even people who don't believe in God) if seen as an occasion for orienting someone to God. Pastors would do well to examine their schedules and ruthlessly delete any activity that doesn't help people do that which they do in worship.

Our church lives in a buyer's market where the customer is king. What the customer wants the customer should get. With half a notion of the gospel, pastors who get caught up in this web of buying and selling in a self-fulfillment economy will one day wake up and hate themselves for it. We will lose some of our (potentially) best pastors to an early grave of cynicism and self-hate.

Pastors who determine to speak the truth-- to reprove, correct, witness, interpret, remember God's story-- can expect to be lonely occasionally. But it would be a loneliness evoked by being faithful rather than a loneliness produced by merely being overly accessible. To the extent that the church and its leaders are willing to be held accountable to the story which is the gospel, ministry can help to create a people worthy to tell the story and to live it.