Monday, January 16, 2006

The American Evangelical-Patriotic-Hallmark Church Calendar

Yesterday my church honored "Sanctity of Life Sunday." The sermon and Scripture reading were both about the importance of life in the face of abortion in the United States. It appears that my church did it a week early. I have no idea who invented "Sanctity of Life Sunday," determined its date, or anything, which is part of the reason why I am struck that we observe this holy day. I do not necessarily have a problem with honoring "Sanctity of Life Sunday," but it makes me to wonder what causes churches like mine from shunning so much of the church calendar. When I say this, I hope the reader will not take this as some kind of rant against my church's leadership; I love my pastors and pray for them.

The circles I run in (not just my church) seem to be rather inconsistent with respect to the observance of holy days. While days like Trinity Sunday, Lent, Maundy Thursday, Epiphany, and so forth are not observed, other days like Mother's Day, the Fourth of July, Christmas, and so forth are observed. How did we go to the point where we embraced this "American Evangelical-Patriotic-Hallmark Church Calendar"? We have days like "Pastors' Day," but we do essentially nothing on Reformation Sunday.

I suppose that there could be at least two responses to my remarks. One may want to defend the status quo, but to this individual I would simply observe that it seems somewhat inconsistent to embrace an ad hoc calendar fusing the sacred and the secular, while excluding the calendar of traditional Christianity.

Another response would be to eliminate holy days altogether. To a certain extent, I am sympathetic to this approach. Pauls says in Col 2:16-17, "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ" (ESV). Unless I am reading this passage wrong, I would say that this is a warning against mandating any observance of holy days. We should not feel guilty if we decide not to observe a particular holy day. Yet, at the same time, I would encourage us to consider adopting more of the church calendar (Kevin Bauder also argues for this here). The principle is this: someone will be planning your church's liturgy on any given Sunday. This person is a man (not God). Thus, we may conclude that the origin of your liturgy is from man. Likewise, certain men developed the church calendar over time. It is difficult to see why implementation of the church calendar (which has been used by some Baptists, by the way) is in itself evil. There may be certain circumstances wherein your church may shy away from the church calendar (like a large converted Catholic contingency), but by and large it serves to help the local church reflect on the life of Jesus Christ and certain key doctrines and figures throughout the year in a systematic way. The church calendar also seems to have with it a large amount of Scripture reading for the public worship, and most fundamentalist churches with which I am familiar could use a good bit more of that as well.

11 Comments:

Blogger Brother Quotidian said...

As pastor of a congregation which follows the very well elaborated liturgical calendar of the Book of Common Prayer, I can testify to the values of a liturgical "rhythm" to our parish's worship. This does not rule out devoting certain Sundays to topics, issues, or doctrines which in the pastor's discretion may be particularly suitable. For example, this coming Sunday -- precisely because the anniversary of Roe v. Wade coincides with this Sunday -- I am departing from the lectionary, substituting different readings from the Psalms, Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel, and focusing my sermon on the topic of abortion ("Where from here?").

This discretion ought to be used sparingly, but it is there to be used. On the other hand, there is a remarkable freedom to a pastor when he ordinarily follows a standard lectionary for Scripture to be read and preached throughout the year. So long as he is preaching the passages as they rotate through the lectionary, he is free from the charge of hobby-horsing certain doctrines, or issues, or sins.

Any parish will have special needs that require pastoral teaching, coaching, and emphasis. But, these should be addressed in a different venue -- say a Sunday School class, or a mid-week Bible study -- reserving the time called "worship" for more universal, less programmatic themes.

1/17/2006 09:09:00 AM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

BQ,

Could I ask you a couple questions?

1) Have you ever "preached through" a book of the Bible, developing the argument of the author over several different weeks? How could that work with a church observing the liturgical calendar?

2) How did the church calendar as we know it today develop, particularly the emphasis on the life of the Lord Jesus during the first half of the year?

By the way, I really like your beard.

1/17/2006 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

I agree, nice beard! Pray, tell us, do you have a briar pipe, Sir?

1/17/2006 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger fitzage said...

Ryan,

My church observes to some degree many of these church holy days, but that doesn't mean that the sermon is some special sermon devoted exclusively to that topic.

Matt

1/17/2006 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger Brother Quotidian said...

Ryan,

I have indeed preached through entire books in a worship service context (Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, 1-2 Samuel, Psalms, Isaiah, each of the Gospels, Romans, Philippians, 1 Corinthians, James, 1-3 John; maybe more; these spring to memory). Here’s the “catch” though – these were done when I was ministering in non-liturgical settings (think standard Baptist or Bible-Church orders of service) where the sermon was definitely the center of gravity, and the end of the sermon was the climax of the service. Also, in these settings it is common for the pulpit ministry to be one of the major Christian education initiatives that the pastor makes toward his flock.

There are two factors which mitigate against this approach to a pulpit ministry in a parish such as I pastor now (an Anglican parish using the 1928 BCP).

First there is the lectionary itself. We follow a three-year lectionary which prescribes a psalm, an OT lesson, a NT lesson (drawn from any where except the gospels), and a gospel lesson (drawn, of course, from one of the gospels). Far more often than not, these combinations of Scripture have easily discernible themes running through them, and because they’re read during the service (though, in our case, we sing the Psalm), any discernible themes are going to be detected by most of those present. If I were to preach on something else entirely, this would introduce a kind of dissonance that is unhelpful; plus it would make most attentive people wonder “Why did he avoid preaching this or that passage in the readings?” I know that’s what many of us wondered when I first entered these kinds of worship services when the priest would sail off into the unknown rather than engage the sticky things that had popped up in the lessons appointed for that day!

The one time I attempted what you’re asking about (I think) was about ten years ago. I was an Episcopal layman, whose parish priest had sufficient confidence in me and my seminary training (from DTS) to allow me to preach the homilies during Lent. That’s seven Sundays (not counting Palm Sunday). This particular year, I decided to preach the Psalms of Ascent (or, at least, seven of them), highlighting the pilgrim-on-the-way-to-the-feasts dimension and applying it to the Lenten season. It “kinda” worked, partly because the lectionary for that season will usually contain passages which are capable of being dove-tailed into the theme(s) of whatever Psalm of Ascent I chose.

But, that’s why it kinda worked – I had seven Sundays and 15 Psalms to chose from, enough wiggle room to avoid sharp conceptual dissonance from preaching from a passage not in the lectionary for that day. Ordinarily, it would be very difficult to avoid dissonance of the sort I’m talking about.

Second, in a liturgical setting, there simply is no “room” for the 35 to 45 minute sermons I preached when pastoring a Bible Church or a Conservative Baptist Church service. Sermons of that length are fitting in those settings, with the reasonable purposes being fulfilled by those sermons, and in particular, given the very low demand placed upon the congregation (all they had to do is sing a couple of times from a hymnal and otherwise just pay attention). But in the worship service I conduct each Sunday these days, the center of gravity is the Eucharist. The homily makes a contribution to the overall service, but it cannot be the humongous expositional sermon of my Bible Church days. There are too many other equally important contributions to the entire service (the reading of those assigned portions of Scripture, for example, plus the prayers of the people, the singing of the Psalm and canticles, and the Eucharist itself during which the congregation has a lot of things to say and do in its celebration).

As to lectionaries, they were already well developed in Jesus’ day. The use of prescribed schedules of Scripture readings were carried over by the first centuries Jewish Christians from the synagogue worship. As the NT appeared, selections from the gospels and epistles were also incorporated. So far as I know, there was no single lectionary at the beginning among Christians (though if the Jewish lectionary was standardized in the First Century, the Christians no doubt followed it until the NT was complete). To get an overview, check out the links under “Lectionaries and postils” about halfway down the page at this URL: http://www.bible-researcher.com/links16.html or google “history of lectionaries” and follow the links it tosses up for you.

Thanks for the kind comments on the beard. I’ve had it for almost 40 years now. The pipe would be a pleasing accessory, but kicking my youthful addiction to tobacco was too, too difficult for me to risk that again.

BQ

1/17/2006 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

That was very helpful, BQ. It's nice being able to see what you look like (finally). You automatically get more respect from me now that I see that handsome snow-white mantle God has given you. Not to dwell too much on the trivial, I have often told my wife how much I want to have white hair when I grow old. It comes from my seeing a photo of Robert Frost as a small child and the numerous Biblical references connecting wisdom with white locks.

Anyway, as a conservative Baptist who is persuaded of the centrality of the proclamation of the Word of God to the gathered community, I may not reach all the conclusions you do. I am nevertheless thankful you took the time to explain the English Reformed culture and how things work there. It was very insightful.

1/17/2006 09:33:00 PM  
Blogger Brother Quotidian said...

... as a conservative Baptist who is persuaded of the centrality of the proclamation of the Word of God to the gathered community, I may not reach all the conclusions you do.

On the other hand, you might. It happened to moi!

To reach conclusions I have reached does not entail, much less require, that one abandon the notion that the proclamation of the Word is central. Maybe sometime, in connection with a different topic, we'll bat around what "proclamation of the Word" can encompass. If the lines are drawn so that the standard Baptist evangelistic sermon is all that fits, ... well, in that case, you're pretty well stuck with what I grew up with in fundy Southern Baptist circles.

The irony is that those fundy circles planted in me a love of things which really couldn't flourish in that soil -- things like proclamation of the Word (!), hearing, speaking, and singing the text of the Bible, (!!), the sacraments (!!!). I left those climes, not to escape anything so bad, but to revel in an abundance of things which my cradle faith taught me were pearls of great price.

BQ

1/18/2006 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

Should I have said "preaching" instead of "proclamation"?

I must say that I am not particularly bent towards "evangelistic" sermons, unless you include in that reference the notion of preaching the gospel to the church.

Yet you do make the Episcopal church sound appealing, BQ.

1/18/2006 01:09:00 PM  
Blogger Brother Quotidian said...

… preaching the gospel to the church.

In my Dallas Seminary days, we were trained to deliver “expositional preaching of the Word.” In that setting, “exposition” meant that whatever else we would do, we would “expound” the text of Scripture. That is, we were supposed to acquire a solid and reasonably complete (not exhaustive) grasp of the message of the text and present this in a clear, winsome manner. “Preach” meant that whatever else our exposition communicated, we were to make practical application of the passage abundantly clear, incorporating exhortation, admonition, and motivation to follow the right path of life, and to avoid the wrong path of life.

I have no criticism for any of this; it’s a laudable agenda for any sort of pastoral ministry. I strove to fulfill this kind of pastoral ministry all my years in those circles, and I still do (with adjustments; see below). It is the absence of this pastoral agenda which led main-line Protestant denominations (including the Episcopal Church) into the ditch. And, it is the incremental abandonment of this pastoral agenda which is leading broad evangelicalism to follow the main-line groups into the same ditch.

The only question I’d raise with this pastoral agenda turns on its venue. For us to do all that our DTS Greek, Hebrew, Bible, and homiletics profs urged on us, most grads (to judge by what they actually wound up doing week by week) needed a generously fleshed out sermon—no less than 30 minutes, more likely 35 to 40 minutes. And, that kind of “room” is abundantly available in the Spartan order of Sunday worship typical of Baptist or Bible-churches.

When I landed in a rare, orthodox Episcopal parish after returning from the mission field (and, of course, opting out of vocational pastoral ministry for the next 15 years), it was immediately obvious to me that these muscular expository pulpit ministries could never happen in the context of a Prayer Book service. Seriously, there was just too much else going on before and after the pulpit portion of the service.

So … if that kind of exposition was going to happen, it would need to happen in a different venue (a Sunday School class; a mid-week Bible study). And, in about 98 percent of Episcopal parishes, this kind of thing is never fielded.

Does that mean the homily in a Prayer Book service is doomed to being a mushy devotional? I heard plenty of those, to be sure. But, a retired priest in our parish showed me it didn’t need to be that way. He would take services when the regular priest was ill, on vacation, at conferences, and so forth. He read his homilies (just as Jonathan Edwards did!), and they ran about 10 to 13 minutes in length. BUT, they were some of the most astute, pointed, focused, hatpin-to-your-hinder-parts messages I’ve ever heard. Fascinated, heeded not only what he was saying, but the method in his “madness.” The recipe for his compelling pulpit ministry turns out to be pretty simple:

1. He was fearless. If the passage had uncomfortable implications, he turned a bright light on them. He always hewed very close to the obvious meaning of the text. He never “unpreached” anything in the Bible’s words. I think his being retired gave him a lot of freedom. As Janis once crooned, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

2. His emphasis was almost exclusively pastoral – focusing on the do’s and don’ts, the oughts and ought nots. His messages convicted of sin, righteousness, and judgment; they offered grace and forgiveness, but on God’s terms: repentance and faith, validated by deeds meet for both.

The point: he would probably have “failed” the DTS model of expositional preaching, for he spent little or no time laying out the range of meanings, selecting one, and defending it against all others. But, I never heard him speak when “the preacher” in me didn’t want to jump and cheer, even if I were still smarting from his exhortations. He showed me that the time-constraints of the Anglican homily do not require that it be fluffy. Indeed, if one marshals all the resources available in a Prayer Book service and uses the homily to focus them like a lens, compressing the light of Bible and doctrine onto a single spot on the heart, you can set fires with it.

Yet you do make the Episcopal church sound appealing …

Then I repent me of that and beg your forgiveness. “Episcopal” on the modern scene is almost inescapably welded to the mainline denomination known as the Episcopal Church in the USA (ECUSA), which is far too apostate to recover, and in which are pitiful bands of Christians too compromised to resist or to retreat. The term of choice for people like me, these days, is “Anglican.” We adopt and apply that term to ourselves in an attempt to affirm abiding loyalty to the English Reformation, but to distinguish ourselves from the rotting carcass that is ECUSA.

BQ

1/18/2006 02:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

Shorter is better.

1/18/2006 03:11:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

The distinction is noted. You know, BQ, you sound a bit like a fundamentalist.

Thank you for the anecdotes.

1/18/2006 03:29:00 PM  

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Immoderate: The American Evangelical-Patriotic-Hallmark Church Calendar

Monday, January 16, 2006

The American Evangelical-Patriotic-Hallmark Church Calendar

Yesterday my church honored "Sanctity of Life Sunday." The sermon and Scripture reading were both about the importance of life in the face of abortion in the United States. It appears that my church did it a week early. I have no idea who invented "Sanctity of Life Sunday," determined its date, or anything, which is part of the reason why I am struck that we observe this holy day. I do not necessarily have a problem with honoring "Sanctity of Life Sunday," but it makes me to wonder what causes churches like mine from shunning so much of the church calendar. When I say this, I hope the reader will not take this as some kind of rant against my church's leadership; I love my pastors and pray for them.

The circles I run in (not just my church) seem to be rather inconsistent with respect to the observance of holy days. While days like Trinity Sunday, Lent, Maundy Thursday, Epiphany, and so forth are not observed, other days like Mother's Day, the Fourth of July, Christmas, and so forth are observed. How did we go to the point where we embraced this "American Evangelical-Patriotic-Hallmark Church Calendar"? We have days like "Pastors' Day," but we do essentially nothing on Reformation Sunday.

I suppose that there could be at least two responses to my remarks. One may want to defend the status quo, but to this individual I would simply observe that it seems somewhat inconsistent to embrace an ad hoc calendar fusing the sacred and the secular, while excluding the calendar of traditional Christianity.

Another response would be to eliminate holy days altogether. To a certain extent, I am sympathetic to this approach. Pauls says in Col 2:16-17, "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ" (ESV). Unless I am reading this passage wrong, I would say that this is a warning against mandating any observance of holy days. We should not feel guilty if we decide not to observe a particular holy day. Yet, at the same time, I would encourage us to consider adopting more of the church calendar (Kevin Bauder also argues for this here). The principle is this: someone will be planning your church's liturgy on any given Sunday. This person is a man (not God). Thus, we may conclude that the origin of your liturgy is from man. Likewise, certain men developed the church calendar over time. It is difficult to see why implementation of the church calendar (which has been used by some Baptists, by the way) is in itself evil. There may be certain circumstances wherein your church may shy away from the church calendar (like a large converted Catholic contingency), but by and large it serves to help the local church reflect on the life of Jesus Christ and certain key doctrines and figures throughout the year in a systematic way. The church calendar also seems to have with it a large amount of Scripture reading for the public worship, and most fundamentalist churches with which I am familiar could use a good bit more of that as well.

11 Comments:

Blogger Brother Quotidian said...

As pastor of a congregation which follows the very well elaborated liturgical calendar of the Book of Common Prayer, I can testify to the values of a liturgical "rhythm" to our parish's worship. This does not rule out devoting certain Sundays to topics, issues, or doctrines which in the pastor's discretion may be particularly suitable. For example, this coming Sunday -- precisely because the anniversary of Roe v. Wade coincides with this Sunday -- I am departing from the lectionary, substituting different readings from the Psalms, Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel, and focusing my sermon on the topic of abortion ("Where from here?").

This discretion ought to be used sparingly, but it is there to be used. On the other hand, there is a remarkable freedom to a pastor when he ordinarily follows a standard lectionary for Scripture to be read and preached throughout the year. So long as he is preaching the passages as they rotate through the lectionary, he is free from the charge of hobby-horsing certain doctrines, or issues, or sins.

Any parish will have special needs that require pastoral teaching, coaching, and emphasis. But, these should be addressed in a different venue -- say a Sunday School class, or a mid-week Bible study -- reserving the time called "worship" for more universal, less programmatic themes.

1/17/2006 09:09:00 AM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

BQ,

Could I ask you a couple questions?

1) Have you ever "preached through" a book of the Bible, developing the argument of the author over several different weeks? How could that work with a church observing the liturgical calendar?

2) How did the church calendar as we know it today develop, particularly the emphasis on the life of the Lord Jesus during the first half of the year?

By the way, I really like your beard.

1/17/2006 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

I agree, nice beard! Pray, tell us, do you have a briar pipe, Sir?

1/17/2006 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger fitzage said...

Ryan,

My church observes to some degree many of these church holy days, but that doesn't mean that the sermon is some special sermon devoted exclusively to that topic.

Matt

1/17/2006 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger Brother Quotidian said...

Ryan,

I have indeed preached through entire books in a worship service context (Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, 1-2 Samuel, Psalms, Isaiah, each of the Gospels, Romans, Philippians, 1 Corinthians, James, 1-3 John; maybe more; these spring to memory). Here’s the “catch” though – these were done when I was ministering in non-liturgical settings (think standard Baptist or Bible-Church orders of service) where the sermon was definitely the center of gravity, and the end of the sermon was the climax of the service. Also, in these settings it is common for the pulpit ministry to be one of the major Christian education initiatives that the pastor makes toward his flock.

There are two factors which mitigate against this approach to a pulpit ministry in a parish such as I pastor now (an Anglican parish using the 1928 BCP).

First there is the lectionary itself. We follow a three-year lectionary which prescribes a psalm, an OT lesson, a NT lesson (drawn from any where except the gospels), and a gospel lesson (drawn, of course, from one of the gospels). Far more often than not, these combinations of Scripture have easily discernible themes running through them, and because they’re read during the service (though, in our case, we sing the Psalm), any discernible themes are going to be detected by most of those present. If I were to preach on something else entirely, this would introduce a kind of dissonance that is unhelpful; plus it would make most attentive people wonder “Why did he avoid preaching this or that passage in the readings?” I know that’s what many of us wondered when I first entered these kinds of worship services when the priest would sail off into the unknown rather than engage the sticky things that had popped up in the lessons appointed for that day!

The one time I attempted what you’re asking about (I think) was about ten years ago. I was an Episcopal layman, whose parish priest had sufficient confidence in me and my seminary training (from DTS) to allow me to preach the homilies during Lent. That’s seven Sundays (not counting Palm Sunday). This particular year, I decided to preach the Psalms of Ascent (or, at least, seven of them), highlighting the pilgrim-on-the-way-to-the-feasts dimension and applying it to the Lenten season. It “kinda” worked, partly because the lectionary for that season will usually contain passages which are capable of being dove-tailed into the theme(s) of whatever Psalm of Ascent I chose.

But, that’s why it kinda worked – I had seven Sundays and 15 Psalms to chose from, enough wiggle room to avoid sharp conceptual dissonance from preaching from a passage not in the lectionary for that day. Ordinarily, it would be very difficult to avoid dissonance of the sort I’m talking about.

Second, in a liturgical setting, there simply is no “room” for the 35 to 45 minute sermons I preached when pastoring a Bible Church or a Conservative Baptist Church service. Sermons of that length are fitting in those settings, with the reasonable purposes being fulfilled by those sermons, and in particular, given the very low demand placed upon the congregation (all they had to do is sing a couple of times from a hymnal and otherwise just pay attention). But in the worship service I conduct each Sunday these days, the center of gravity is the Eucharist. The homily makes a contribution to the overall service, but it cannot be the humongous expositional sermon of my Bible Church days. There are too many other equally important contributions to the entire service (the reading of those assigned portions of Scripture, for example, plus the prayers of the people, the singing of the Psalm and canticles, and the Eucharist itself during which the congregation has a lot of things to say and do in its celebration).

As to lectionaries, they were already well developed in Jesus’ day. The use of prescribed schedules of Scripture readings were carried over by the first centuries Jewish Christians from the synagogue worship. As the NT appeared, selections from the gospels and epistles were also incorporated. So far as I know, there was no single lectionary at the beginning among Christians (though if the Jewish lectionary was standardized in the First Century, the Christians no doubt followed it until the NT was complete). To get an overview, check out the links under “Lectionaries and postils” about halfway down the page at this URL: http://www.bible-researcher.com/links16.html or google “history of lectionaries” and follow the links it tosses up for you.

Thanks for the kind comments on the beard. I’ve had it for almost 40 years now. The pipe would be a pleasing accessory, but kicking my youthful addiction to tobacco was too, too difficult for me to risk that again.

BQ

1/17/2006 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

That was very helpful, BQ. It's nice being able to see what you look like (finally). You automatically get more respect from me now that I see that handsome snow-white mantle God has given you. Not to dwell too much on the trivial, I have often told my wife how much I want to have white hair when I grow old. It comes from my seeing a photo of Robert Frost as a small child and the numerous Biblical references connecting wisdom with white locks.

Anyway, as a conservative Baptist who is persuaded of the centrality of the proclamation of the Word of God to the gathered community, I may not reach all the conclusions you do. I am nevertheless thankful you took the time to explain the English Reformed culture and how things work there. It was very insightful.

1/17/2006 09:33:00 PM  
Blogger Brother Quotidian said...

... as a conservative Baptist who is persuaded of the centrality of the proclamation of the Word of God to the gathered community, I may not reach all the conclusions you do.

On the other hand, you might. It happened to moi!

To reach conclusions I have reached does not entail, much less require, that one abandon the notion that the proclamation of the Word is central. Maybe sometime, in connection with a different topic, we'll bat around what "proclamation of the Word" can encompass. If the lines are drawn so that the standard Baptist evangelistic sermon is all that fits, ... well, in that case, you're pretty well stuck with what I grew up with in fundy Southern Baptist circles.

The irony is that those fundy circles planted in me a love of things which really couldn't flourish in that soil -- things like proclamation of the Word (!), hearing, speaking, and singing the text of the Bible, (!!), the sacraments (!!!). I left those climes, not to escape anything so bad, but to revel in an abundance of things which my cradle faith taught me were pearls of great price.

BQ

1/18/2006 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

Should I have said "preaching" instead of "proclamation"?

I must say that I am not particularly bent towards "evangelistic" sermons, unless you include in that reference the notion of preaching the gospel to the church.

Yet you do make the Episcopal church sound appealing, BQ.

1/18/2006 01:09:00 PM  
Blogger Brother Quotidian said...

… preaching the gospel to the church.

In my Dallas Seminary days, we were trained to deliver “expositional preaching of the Word.” In that setting, “exposition” meant that whatever else we would do, we would “expound” the text of Scripture. That is, we were supposed to acquire a solid and reasonably complete (not exhaustive) grasp of the message of the text and present this in a clear, winsome manner. “Preach” meant that whatever else our exposition communicated, we were to make practical application of the passage abundantly clear, incorporating exhortation, admonition, and motivation to follow the right path of life, and to avoid the wrong path of life.

I have no criticism for any of this; it’s a laudable agenda for any sort of pastoral ministry. I strove to fulfill this kind of pastoral ministry all my years in those circles, and I still do (with adjustments; see below). It is the absence of this pastoral agenda which led main-line Protestant denominations (including the Episcopal Church) into the ditch. And, it is the incremental abandonment of this pastoral agenda which is leading broad evangelicalism to follow the main-line groups into the same ditch.

The only question I’d raise with this pastoral agenda turns on its venue. For us to do all that our DTS Greek, Hebrew, Bible, and homiletics profs urged on us, most grads (to judge by what they actually wound up doing week by week) needed a generously fleshed out sermon—no less than 30 minutes, more likely 35 to 40 minutes. And, that kind of “room” is abundantly available in the Spartan order of Sunday worship typical of Baptist or Bible-churches.

When I landed in a rare, orthodox Episcopal parish after returning from the mission field (and, of course, opting out of vocational pastoral ministry for the next 15 years), it was immediately obvious to me that these muscular expository pulpit ministries could never happen in the context of a Prayer Book service. Seriously, there was just too much else going on before and after the pulpit portion of the service.

So … if that kind of exposition was going to happen, it would need to happen in a different venue (a Sunday School class; a mid-week Bible study). And, in about 98 percent of Episcopal parishes, this kind of thing is never fielded.

Does that mean the homily in a Prayer Book service is doomed to being a mushy devotional? I heard plenty of those, to be sure. But, a retired priest in our parish showed me it didn’t need to be that way. He would take services when the regular priest was ill, on vacation, at conferences, and so forth. He read his homilies (just as Jonathan Edwards did!), and they ran about 10 to 13 minutes in length. BUT, they were some of the most astute, pointed, focused, hatpin-to-your-hinder-parts messages I’ve ever heard. Fascinated, heeded not only what he was saying, but the method in his “madness.” The recipe for his compelling pulpit ministry turns out to be pretty simple:

1. He was fearless. If the passage had uncomfortable implications, he turned a bright light on them. He always hewed very close to the obvious meaning of the text. He never “unpreached” anything in the Bible’s words. I think his being retired gave him a lot of freedom. As Janis once crooned, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

2. His emphasis was almost exclusively pastoral – focusing on the do’s and don’ts, the oughts and ought nots. His messages convicted of sin, righteousness, and judgment; they offered grace and forgiveness, but on God’s terms: repentance and faith, validated by deeds meet for both.

The point: he would probably have “failed” the DTS model of expositional preaching, for he spent little or no time laying out the range of meanings, selecting one, and defending it against all others. But, I never heard him speak when “the preacher” in me didn’t want to jump and cheer, even if I were still smarting from his exhortations. He showed me that the time-constraints of the Anglican homily do not require that it be fluffy. Indeed, if one marshals all the resources available in a Prayer Book service and uses the homily to focus them like a lens, compressing the light of Bible and doctrine onto a single spot on the heart, you can set fires with it.

Yet you do make the Episcopal church sound appealing …

Then I repent me of that and beg your forgiveness. “Episcopal” on the modern scene is almost inescapably welded to the mainline denomination known as the Episcopal Church in the USA (ECUSA), which is far too apostate to recover, and in which are pitiful bands of Christians too compromised to resist or to retreat. The term of choice for people like me, these days, is “Anglican.” We adopt and apply that term to ourselves in an attempt to affirm abiding loyalty to the English Reformation, but to distinguish ourselves from the rotting carcass that is ECUSA.

BQ

1/18/2006 02:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

Shorter is better.

1/18/2006 03:11:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

The distinction is noted. You know, BQ, you sound a bit like a fundamentalist.

Thank you for the anecdotes.

1/18/2006 03:29:00 PM  

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