If It Quacks Like a Duck, It Might Be a Presbyterian

Perhaps an Inconsistent One

My friend, Rachel Miller, who blogs at A Daughter of the Reformation is concerned about the importation of Roman Catholic practices into Presbyterian churches. She lists six things that bother her :
  • Eucharistic Liturgy  
  • Intinction
  • Monastic Retreats
  • Contemplative Prayer
  • Vestments
  • Observance of Ash Wednesday/Lent

Her conclusion: 
In the end, I’m not sure why so many Catholic practices are finding their way into Reformed Presbyterian churches. It seems to me that these things have the “feel” of worship, and maybe that is the attraction. Maybe there is boredom or discontent with our own traditions. Maybe there is a desire to “do church” differently. Whatever the reason, maybe we should stop and reconsider. All of these things are part of a religious tradition that our spiritual ancestors broke away from. Maybe we should give more thought as to why. 

I want to offer a few comments about several statements Rachel makes in expressing her concerns (I will not comment on contemplative prayer or monastic retreats as I know nothing of them), but first a little context: 

I was a student at Reformed Theological Seminary in the "old days" (1969-72). The faculty was a mix of Southern Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed ministers. The faculty member who taught worship and preaching was the Rev. Richard Allen Bodey, a Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. ("Northern"), formerly United Presbyterian, minister. Mr. Bodey introduced us very low-church, evangelical, conservative Presbyterians to a strange new world...
  • the liturgical calendar including, not only Christmas and Easter with which we were familiar, but Advent, Lent, Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity
  • an ordered worship that moved from approaching God (e.g. adoration, confession), to hearing God (e.g. Scripture lessons, sermon), to responding to God (e.g. offering, prayers, sacrament)  
  •  use of The (Presbyterian) Book of Common Worship, with multiple Scripture readings, written prayers, corporate confession of sins, assurances of pardon, a Communion liturgy - which borrowed from the liturgies of the ancient, the the liturgies of Continental Reformed, and the liturgies of the English Protestant church before the Puritans
  • distinctive clerical clothing including the use of a collar, the Geneva gown, and stoles  
Projects included preparing a year's calendar indicating the liturgical seasons and appropriate colors, writing collects and other prayers, memorizing the whole Communion service, and planning services for a year with lessons and hymns. 

Was all this Reformed and Presbyterian? Mr. Bodey, who appreciated the post-World War II liturgical renewal movement, was sure it was. Other faculty members found it too "high church."

Now to Rachel's concerns.

About Eucharistic liturgy she writes: 
First, while there are many opinions and preferences on liturgical style in worship, there is more going on here than simply responsive readings. Some churches have begun to borrow liturgy from the Catholic Eucharist mass to use in their own communion services. Most often what is used is the “mysterium fidei”

Minister: Let us proclaim the mystery of faith:

All: Christ has died.

Christ is risen.

Christ will come again.
These words are absolutely true. Christ has indeed died, risen, and will come again. But it’s important to consider the origin and meaning of this piece of liturgy.

This liturgy comes from the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The purpose of the liturgy is to consecrate the host or Eucharist for the celebration of the communion rite. The mysterium fidei comes from the part when the priest consecrates the wine, turning the wine into the blood of Jesus.

This is important because the “mystery of faith,” according to the Catholic church, is that once the bread and wine have been consecrated they are transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ. Which is why the consecrated elements, bread and wine, are held up for veneration. In fact, the entire celebration of the Eucharist liturgy is to offer up Christ as a sacrifice to God each and every time...
...Why would any Reformed Presbyterian believer want to return to Eucharistic liturgy in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper? We certainly don’t believe that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus. Words have meanings, and liturgy has a history. Is our own liturgical history so empty that we need to borrow words from a ceremony whose very meaning is contrary to all we believe?
If "there are many opinions and preferences on liturgical style in worship" what opinions and preferences are acceptable? I think what she is getting at is that there are allowable opinions such as favoring  "traditional" or "contemporary" worship. One may prefer singing Psalms only, or Psalms and historic hymns, or praise and worship songs alone or combined with Psalms and/or hymns. One person might prefer that worship be lead by a minister while someone else would prefer worship led by a worship team or praise band. In other words, the problem with the use of the "mysterium fidei" is that it does not fit within her list of acceptable opinions and preferences. The problem for her is because of its connection with the Roman mass. Other practices are allowable despite their being derived from charismatic worship. (If it walks like a charismatic and quacks like a charismatic, is it a charismatic?)

The word "eucharist" ("eucharisteo": "to give thanks) is a term for the Holy Communion (the Lord's Supper) that is derived from the Bible. All three Gospel accounts and the Pauline account record our Lord's giving thanks as he instituted the sacrament. The Supper is "the Thanksgiving."

Now, what about the "mysterium fidei" or the "mystery of faith." This, too, is a Biblical concept derived from 1 Timothy 3:9 ("They (deacons) must hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience") and 1 Timothy 3:16:

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh, 
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.

What about "the mystery of faith" that "we confess" - that "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again"? A mystery in the Bible is not something eerie or mystical, but rather something that cannot be known by human observation or reason but must be revealed by God. The proclamation of the mystery is the proclaiming the faith God has revealed to us in Christ and by apostles and prophets. (It is worth noting that some Roman Catholics are not happy with either the word "proclaim" - preferring "acclaim" - or with the placement of the proclamation in the liturgy as it is no longer a part of the consecration itself but comes after the consecration.)

It appears that the objection is that, when Presbyterians confess the mystery of faith in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, while the words as they stand in no way confess a belief in transubstantiation or sacrifice on an altar, they are saying words that Roman Catholics, who do believe in such things, say as part of the Mass. What then if the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed or "Jesus is Lord" is said? Or, what if the Presbyterian minister as he gives the invitation to and the exhortation at the Table should choose to say: "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again"? Is this allowed? What if "Come, Ye Disconsolate" (first two verses by Irish Catholic, Thomas Moore) is sung as a Communion hymn? Unless you are willing to go all the way and prescribe a liturgy for the Lord's Supper, then the fact that the people say something true, that is also said by Roman Catholics, is no objection at all. It is a matter of freedom within the limits of directed worship (Presbyterians have directories for worship). 

Concern about the use of the "mysterium fidei" leads to a consideration of the practice of intinction
A related topic is the practice of intinction. Intinction, or dipping the communion bread into the wine, is a practice that originated with the Catholic and Eastern churches. One of the most common reasons given for the practice within those churches was to reduce the risk of spilling the consecrated wine. Remember, once the wine has been consecrated it is believed to be the actual blood of Christ.
Most of the current arguments for intinction, such as reducing the time it takes to celebrate communion and being more hygienic than drinking from a common cup, are more pragmatic. Some ask why it even matters how we celebrate communion.
I was present recently at an Episcopal funeral that was attended by a goodly number of Presbyterians. When an old (in two senses) Presbyterian minister friend went to the rail to receive Communion, I observed that he both knelt and received by intinction. Inasmuch as he is a traditional conservative Presbyterian and a member of a Presbytery that would frown on intinction, I went to him after the service and said, "If I ever get mad at you, I am going to report this to your Presbytery!"

For a history and critique of intinction by a Presbyterian minister readers may wish to consult a paper by Lane Kiester. The early practice of intinction was probably related to giving Holy Communion to the sick. Eventually it became the common practice of the Eastern Church. But it was rare in the practice of the Western Church till rather recently. The 1948 Lambeth Conference approved it as an option for Anglicans, though receiving in both kinds separately remained normative. It is now approved as one option for Roman Catholics.

Ms. Miller is right that where intinction is practiced among Presbyterians (and other Protestants) the justifications are pragmatic. (1) Numbers and time: My first experience with intinction came at a large gathering of Presbyterian missionaries in Turkey. Ministers who were present were asked to distribute. We were given chalices and asked to dip the wafers into the wine. It was a purely practical arrangement based on the number of communicants and the time to commune each. (2) Health or squeamishness: When I ribbed my Presbyterian minister friend about his communing by intinction, he acknowledged to me that it was because he did not want to drink from the common cup. 

I allow but do not encourage intinction in my parish. I believe that communing should include two distinct receptions on the part of the communicant - eating and drinking. Among Protestants who practice intinction it is, so far as I can tell, an issue of hygiene. (One study has shown that the risk of getting a disease by receiving from the common cup is very minimal, but is slightly greater where a purificator - or cloth - is used after each communing person drinks from the cup.) 

For the same reasons that I would prefer that people not commune by intinction, many Presbyterians object to the practice. But where it is practiced, it is not an import from Roman Catholicism. It is a practice that is used for practical reasons where the common cup - which I believe is the proper way - is used. Put simply Presbyterians who practice intinction do not wish to drink after one another. 

About vestments she writes: 

Equally curious is the move towards wearing Catholic style robes and vestments, including the increasingly popular clerical collars. There is nothing intrinsically
Jonathan Edwards
wrong with robes and stoles and collars of various shapes and colors. However, incertain styles are strongly associated with particular religious traditions that we are not part of as Reformed Presbyterian churches. While I agree that these robes, etc. are visually striking, if a pastor wants to wear a robe, why not a traditional Geneva gown? Why look like something we aren’t?"

Charles Hodge
in Cravat
With regard to the collar, it is likely that it was invented by a Presbyterian - the Rev. Donald Mcleod of the Church of Scotland. Reformed ministers often added the "preaching bands" which are attached to the collar (see Edwards) when in the pulpit. It was adopted and adapted by other churches including Anglicans, Lutherans, and Methodists. The practice of Roman Catholic priests wearing the collar as daily wear did not become widespread till after Vatican II the cassock was increasingly abandoned. It might reasonably be said that the wearing of the collar is not a case of Presbyterians going Roman but of Romans going Presbyterian. Be that as it may, if there is "nothing intrinsically wrong" with collars and vestments, then there is nothing wrong with them. They are a matter of preference.

Then Rachel questions the observance of Lent by Presbyterians:
Last, an appropriate one for this time of year, many churches have begun celebrating Ash Wednesday and Lent. I have absolutely nothing against prayer, fasting, and reflecting on Jesus and His death and resurrection. However the historic practice of observing Lent is more than that...
Many articles have been written about Lent and why Reformed believers should question the practice, but what is important to remember is that the purpose of Lent, historically, is penance and the earning of merit towards salvation. It is a practice so antithetical to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. If something is a sin, we should stop doing it, but not just for 40 days. If something is not a sin, we are free to enjoy it or not. Our lives should be always marked with sober reflection of our sin and of our salvation.
Presbyterians who are interested in a criticism of the observance of Lent from the perspective of the Regulative Principle of Worship may want to consult Roland Barnes "Why I Don't Observe Lent" , an article from which Rachel quotes.

There are several things worth noting. First, no church teaches that one is free to commit sins during the rest of the year but should put them away during Lent. Lent,
like the old Communion Seasons of the Scottish Church, is a time of self-examination, repentance, and abstinences as a way of focusing on spiritual things. It is something like walking with our Lord through his 40 days in the wilderness so that we focus not only on our sins but also on the trials and sufferings of our Lord for our salvation.  

Second, the statement "what is important to remember is that the purpose of Lent, historically, is penance and the earning of merit towards salvation. It is a practice so antithetical to the doctrine of justification by faith alone" is incorrect. The practice of a short period of fasting before Easter was in existence when the Council of Nicaea met in A.D. 325. Observance of Lent as meritorious is a Middle Ages development. The observance of Lent was not rejected by all the Reformed, as this from the Second Helvetic Confession demonstrates:
LENT. The fast of Lent is attested by antiquity but not at all in the writings of the apostles. Therefore it ought not, and cannot, be imposed on the faithful. It is certain that formerly there were various forms and customs of fasting. Hence, Irenaeus, a most ancient writer, says: "Some think that a fast should be observed one day only, others two days, but others more, and some forty days. This diversity in keeping this fast did not first begin in our times, but long before us by those, as I suppose, who did not simply keep to what had been delivered to them from the beginning, but afterwards fell into another custom either through negligence or ignorance" (Fragm. 3, ed. Stieren, I. 824 f.). Moreover, Socrates, the historian, says: "Because no ancient text is found concerning this matter, I think the apostles left this to every man's own judgment, that every one might do what is good without fear or constraint" (Hist. ecclesiast. V.22, 40).

The Reformed Church of England retained Ash Wednesday and Lent. Those who wish to see the Ash Wednesday service as it was in the time of close cooperation between Thomas Cranmer (Protestant martyr) and the Protestant King Edward may find it at this site for the 1549 Book of Common Prayer.

Here is the problem for Presbyterians who object to Lent: Do you keep Christmas? Palm Sunday? Good Friday? Easter? Do you observe Advent - perhaps as a time of of singing Christmas hymns, Christmas choir and children's programs, Christmas- themed sermons? Why? And, if those, why do you draw the line at Lent? 

There are thorny issues Presbyterians face regarding the Regulative Principle of Worship. There are those who observe it strictly. Their goal is to do nothing with regard to worship that is not approved by Scripture by precept or approved example. Things get sticky when it comes to issues such as what may be sung in worship. Only Psalms, no hymns? Why metrical Psalms rather than Psalms that can be chanted literally? What about offerings as part of worship? Seasons for missions or stewardship? A missions moment? Why a Geneva gown when academics no longer wear robes? If not the Geneva gown, why the suit? Why not tee shirts, shorts, and boat shoes?

During most of my 65 years as a Presbyterian I observed inconsistent Presbyterians (Whitman: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds..."). Even relatively strict ones, who would prefer not to celebrate Christmas or not to sing hymns, do so as a concession to their congregations. My wife was once a member of a Presbyterian church, where the senior minister would have preferred not to celebrate Christmas, but during one December every morning sermon, every evening sermon, and every prayer meeting meditation was on a Christmas theme. There are strict regulative principle Presbyterians whom are to be respected for their consistency. But the vast majority construe the principle very broadly.

In my ecclesiastical connection now we don't observe Christmas at all - except for twelve days beginning December 25 and ending January 5. Before December 25 we observe Advent (and sing not a single carol) and beginning January 6 we celebrate Epiphany. We follow the prescriptions of the Book of Common Prayer, not the suggestions of a Presbyterian Directory. This makes me more strict about worship than almost all Presbyterians.

If it quacks like a duck, it might be...

a Roman Catholic Duck
a Charismatic Duck
a Presbyterian Duck
a Baptist Duck
or the oddest of ducks -
a Reformed Episcopal Duck

1 comment:

  1. "There are strict regulative principle Presbyterians whom are to be respected for their consistency. But the vast majority construe the principle very broadly."

    This is very true. For most the RPW is a wax nose to fashion as local tradition/personal preference may require.


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