“The soul of a true Christian….appeared like such a little white flower as we see in the spring of the year; low and humble on the ground, opening its bosom to receive the pleasant beams of the sun’s glory; rejoicing, as it were, in a calm rapture; diffusing around a sweet fragrancy; standing peacefully and lovingly, in the midst of other flowers round about; all in like manner opening their bosoms to drink in the light of the sun. There was no part of creature-holiness that I had so great a sense of its loveliness, as humility, brokenness of heart and poverty of spirit; and there was nothing that I so earnestly longed for. My heart panted after this - to lie low before God, as in the dust; that I might be nothing, and that God might be all; that I might become as a little child” (Memoirs of Jonathan Edwards)
"The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him - and of her" (AW Tozer).
"To utter the word 'God', is to start a revolution" (Karl Barth)
Job of old had many problems he urgently needed clarity on. He could not understand why he was suffering so, and longed for God to break that silence. When God did finally appear to speak to Job (the divine 'logia' are found in Job 38-41) he appeared to Job in a storm (38:1) and then spoke to Job from out of the storm. Why God appeared in that way – Whirl Wind then Words - is the reason this short prologue to my logia articles and reflections. In short, God was creating a perspective within Job that was an essential context for understanding what He wanted to say. God knew that 'how Job heard' needed to be established prior to 'what Job heard'. That requisite perspective in the bible is commonly called 'the fear of the Lord', and is the only context within which we can rightly hear and respond to the divine word.
Before we enter into the human theological conversation, we need to prepare ourselves. Our primary preparation as we approach thought about the infinite God is to internalise the 'weight of glory'. It is imperative that we have the sense of the Divine, the echo within of the majesty without and the shadow of That Colossal Reality of the Being named 'God' in English. With this Shadow of the mysterious Almighty falling over our spirits, our minds are clothed with child-like fascination and our wills subdued in profound humility. Without this subjective 'dislocation' before the Holy, we are not really fit for comprehending the words God speaks;it is the point of departure for all our thinking about God, thinking that is simply a mental form of worship. This is what is behind the biblical idiom of 'the fear of the Lord'. This is why God spoke to Job from out of the storm.
“Barth thought that they should sit round in a semi-circle, and ‘that the ideal solution to the problem of forming a central focus was to erect a striking wooden table, which should be easy to put up, but clearly different from an ‘altar’. It should be provided with a movable desk, since it would have to serve both as a pulpit and a table for the Lord’s Supper and in place of a font… Pictorial and symbolic representations are out of place in the Protestant Church. (The reality of the person and work of Jesus Christ can only be represented by the activity of the community in worship in the narrower sense of the term, and then above all in life: no pictures and no symbols.). The organ should be replaced by four wind instruments to support the singing of the congregation – it seems to me out of place in the context of Christian worship, and belongs in the concert hall rather than the church”. (Karl Barth by Eberhard Busch).
Architecture and floor plan in church buildings is a theologically instructive study. For most of christian history, formal ecclesiastical buildings were designed to express Christian belief, The seating arrangement, the position of the pulpit or lectern, the place of the Communion Table, baptismal font etc were very often theological statements and changes were seen as heretical. I think it is important that we think about this issue again, and intentionally construct a Christian layout to our worship venues that is theologically orthodox. Before I tell you what I think this should look like, consider the changes that have happened over time:
Early Church: there was no real pulpit or religious furniture since they met in homes. Yet the Word and the Lord's Meal were vital and shaped their meetings.
Medieval Church: with increasing sacramental theology, the altar became the centre piece of the service and thus the focus of building and floor plan. The lectern or pulpit was placed to the side.
Protestant Church: with the Reformation, the altar was exchanged for the Pulpit and the Lord's Table was placed under the Word. (Lutheran and Anglican churches kept an 'altar'). In many Reformed churches, such as the Zurich churches under the reformer Zwingli, the table was a place where the worshipers came up to and sat to eat of the Lord's Supper. It was not a symbolic table but a functional one.
Modern Church: the stage and music team is the centre piece, with the pulpit exchanged for the music stand.
Thus the progression (or regression) has been: Word & Meal > Altar > Pulpit & Table > Stage & Music Stand > ?
I think it is time to signify who we are and what we are doing in our meetings by placing the Pulpit & the Table back to centre stage. The Table is a symbol of Communion with Christ, the Head of the Church and His people present. This communion should be the goal and intent of our gatherings. The 'Table' expresses peaceful fellowship vertically and horizontally, for us made possible through his shed blood. The Pulpit is also central, for we are a people created by the Word of the Gospel. It is the divinely ordained means to what should happen at the Table. Much more can be said, but I trust you will think about the importance of having a Pulpit and a Table restored to their rightful places in Christ's church. The Lord speed the day when the Pulpit and Table are fulfilled among us.
Like it or not, John Calvin is here to say. He is one of those few persons who have left their own stamp on history. Books, seminaries, churches, sons’ names, comic strips, conferences, class room debates and denominational magazines continue to carry Calvin into 2010 and beyond. In 2009 people celebrated 150 years since Charles Darwin’s birth, and 500 years since Calvin’s. Both these men propagated systems of thought that have profoundly influenced Western civilization. The mere mention of the name ‘Calvin’ and ‘Darwin’, will provoke either love or hated, words of infamy or eulogy, but never neutral indifference. We might say (with much oversimplification) that each man went in mutually opposite directions with incredible zeal and fruition. Whilst Darwin penetrated the world of man and of nature, Calvin scrutinized God and His Word.
John Calvin was born in France in 1509. Providence enabled him to start his studies from an early age. Being by temperament driven and decisive, he excelled in his classical, theological and legal fields of study. Then at age 23, whilst in Paris, he experienced a conversion and joined the Protestant cause. “God” he later said, “by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame”. From then on Calvin was mastered by a sense of the Majesty of God and His Word, inspiring an unreserved surrender of himself in every way. In a unique way providence, natural temperament, intellectual rigour and spiritual devotion converged and were thenceforth directed to the rebuilding of the Church on its true biblical foundation. As someone has said, he was able to take the Protestant mob, and turn it into an army.
My first impression of Calvin was of a man who limited God’s love to a few, who ruled Geneva with the iron fist of a dictator, being of a stern, cold and marble-like demeanour. However, though I could justify leaving John Calvin on the shelf of history, I could not do that with Romans chapter 9. After a while I came ‘kicking and screaming’ to the conclusion that the only faithful reading of that chapter was the traditional ‘Calvinistic’ one. Since then, I began a personal reassessment of the famous Genevan Reformer. I realized that prejudice, caricature and second hand opinions have prevented many from appreciating his huge contribution to both theology and the church. This does not mean that we must slavishly follow the reformer in every way as some seem to do. Rather, we should critically appreciate his significance as one whose writings so closely approximated the body of truth given for us in the Scriptures.
Will John Calvin always be a part of Christian theology? I believe he will be. The comprehensive and biblical nature of his writings is unique. His sense of the Majesty and Glory of God in all things remains catalytic for spiritual reformation. His self-immolation for the cause of the Lord and His church is heroic. His stand point is so clearly opposed to the humanizing tendency of the world and human nature. His zeal to purge the church of foreign elements and to establish her strictly upon the foundation of biblical revelation will always be an ongoing principle in the Body of Christ. So, I challenge you to get beyond the accretions of historical prejudice. Separate the 16th century form of his writings and appreciate the quality of his content. Disagree with him, agree with him. Go to the primary sources of his writings. Read his Institutes of the Christian Religion and his Commentaries. Then I’m sure you will understand why 500 years later we are still talking about John Calvin.
“Doctrine is not an affair of the tongue, but of the life; is not apprehended by the intellect and memory alone… but is received only when it possesses the whole soul, and finds its seat in the innermost recesses of the heart” (from The Institutes: Book 3:Chapter 6)
"According to the unanimous testimony of the New Testament, in the man Jesus of Nazareth...we have to do with the One who is qualitatively different, transcendent and uplifted in relation to all other men and the whole cosmos....The Almighty exists and acts and speaks here in the form of One who is weak and impotent, the Eternal as One who is temporal and perishing, the Most High in the deepest humility. The Holy One stands in the place and under the accusation of a sinner with other sinners. The glorious One is covered with shame. The One who lives forever has fallen prey to death. The Creator is subjected to and overcome by the onslaught of that which is not. In short, the Lord is a servant, a slave" (Church Dogmatics IV:I, pg 176)
'About 100 years ago an unknown German pastor of a Reformed church in the German town Safenwil decided to write a commentary on the book of Romans. He was experiencing a theological catastrophe similar to the Great War that was then destroying Europe. Yet he needed to write a commentary different from the conventional genre of commentary. He wanted to echo the unnerving thunderclap of the Word of God that he was hearing in Paul's words and not just analyse the syntax or literary medium of the apostle. As a pastor he used his commentary to preach the Word of in Romans to his shell-shocked congregation, alerting them to the 'strange new world within the Bible', the world of God's sheer mercy and grace in Jesus Christ. He also indirectly wanted to show that the German theological heritage that he had been schooled in and which had recently rationalized the Great War stood explicitly under God's 'NO!' of judgment. Such theology was mere anthropology. The result of all this was Barth's Commentary of Romans (1st edition 1918). It landed 'like a bombshell in the playground of the theologians' and elevated young Karl onto the platform of the world's greatest theologians. If you take the time to read his book and enter into his thought you will see that this is no academic product but the gushing overflow of a man with a penetrating mind who has been undone by the Word of God. Our engagement with Barth needs to be critical (as he would affirm) but though there will be places in his commentary where we would write NO!, there will be more places where we will underline with a joyous YES! He remains an important Christian theologian and has an unerring ability to direct his readers to the most important issue in life: GOD alone and GOD himself. In order to appreciate Barth, a good place to begin is here., you will be glad you did.
Words, said Samuel Johnson, are the clothes of thoughts. That said, there are two very important words help us take up and live in the world and the Word more faithfully and thus Christianly. The words are 'inductive imagination'. Here is my story....
It was about 4 years ago that whilst swimming in the local gym pool that I had my epiphany of inductive imagination. I realized that I was doing this length to clock up my 20 lengths to then change, go home, get my afternoon tasks done to finish the day to begin the next day finish that then finish the week get to Sunday and so begin on Monday again. I was not attentive or enjoying my length in the pool because i was 'using' it to clock up a total to then get on with the next thing. I was living in terms of quantity of time and not quality. Why did I have to define or interpret the present moment in terms of other things rather than just do the present on its own terms? (later, Eugene Peterson would borrow a phrase from a poem to describe how I was not living - 'every step an arrival'). I then got out of the pool and in the change rooms decided to stop and just look around and where I was an appreciate it and pay it the necessary attention, as apparently insignificant as my surroundings where. Well, that time at the gym initiated (or maybe established) me into a more self-conscious way of living, the way of 'inductive imagination'.
It is a 'method of life' which pays attention to the present and does not allow the forward flow of life to steal from the present. It is a way of living, loving, serving, reading, praying, and serving that loving takes up the present period and appreciates what God has done here and now. It resists the modern way of living where we are so busy getting ahead that we do not thankfully and humbly enjoy what is under our noses. It is resisting the desire to put the next tasty chip into your mouth so that you can thankfully savour the one that is already there. Have you discovered inductive imagination?