Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Gene Veith - Praise Songs as sacraments and mantras

Interesting title, don't you think?

In his blog post Veith cites a 2005 article from Touchstone magazine where the writer makes this comment:

"As a trained church musician (finishing a Ph.D. in historical musicology), I served as the “worship leader” in a mid-sized suburban Evangelical church for a number of years. As I told the senior pastor of that church, the problem with modern Evangelical worship is that Evangelicals seem to recognize only one sacrament these days: The Worship Song."

This is a very insightful comment. Nearly all evangelicals view the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper as empty signs. Thus, they have resorted to the 'worship song' as the means of connecting to God.

Opposed to this view is that of the Lutheran and Reformed. Both acknowledge that God is the one acting in and through the sacraments, hence they are not empty signs. They are the times in worship where God makes contact with His people through the ordinary elements of water, bread and wine. While Lutherans and Reformed have their differences about the sacraments both agree that God is acting when they are administered.

It's sad that evangelicals miss this profound theological point. What's worse is when confessional Lutherans and Reformed trade their Gospel-driven understanding of the sacraments for the worship song. Veith writes, "I understand that traditions that don’t even have that must substitute something. But why would traditions that do have a sacramental understanding of Christ’s true presence go after this pale substitute?" Dr. Michael Horton has made the same point in his book entitled "Christless Christianity."

For those wishing to read more of the reformed understanding of the sacraments please consider reading articles 33, 34 and 35 of the Belgic Confession (Google it). I recently wrote a paper on the Belgic Confession and find it unsurpassed in articulating how God works in and through the sacraments.

You can read Veith's entire article at the link below. Also read the piece in Touchstone for some additional insights.

Christianity, Culture, Vocation — Cranach: The Blog of Veith


Ken Clouse said...

Dave, I wonder if it is actually improper (maybe even sinful) to take communion in the manner of some. Those that pass the small plastic cup around and instruct the congregation, drink it when you like.
The communion worship time is much, much more than a time of remembrance, reflection etc.
Ken Clouse

Dave Sarafolean said...


Good point. Some churches practice open Communion and they leave the participation to the discretion of the recipient (and almost always they pass the elements down the rows). Sometimes they get the cart before the horse in that they allow unbaptized people to partake of the Lord's Supper. From the New Testament to today baptism was the initiatory rite of entrance into the church. The Lord's Supper is reserved for communing members in good standing.

Some churches practice closed Communion: you must be a member of that denomination and catechized in their beliefs before partaking. Many Lutherans have this practice but it is not exclusive to them. Some conservative reformed groups like the RPCNA (Covenanters) would fall into this category.

We practice restricted Communion requiring that those who partake have been baptized, are members of a church that embraces the Gospel, and are at peace with their neighbor. While it isn't fool-proof it does require self-examination. If an unworthy person (one who can't meet the criteria) partakes then they are responsible for ignoring God's warning.

The individualistic mode of eating and drinking when you like is exactly that: me and Jesus. It undercuts the communal nature of Communion. Some churches get around this by having the entire congregation come forward to receive the elements and then return to their seats where they partake together at the direction of the pastor. As you may know we have people come forward in groups of 10-15 to partake (the front of our church cannot accomodate more).

What's lost in much of this is the distinction made so clear in the Heidelberg Catechism: just as the bread and wine nourish our bodies so Christ is present and is nourishing our souls. I've long contended that if a reformed church adminsters Communion by sending the elements down the rows (just like those who believe it is nothing more than a sign) we have a hard time getting our people to see it as more than a sign.

Be Thou My Vision said...

Intense words, very interesting and thought provoking. Signs and traditions, communion and reflections are parts of being a God loving individual. God bless my brothers and sisters.