Monday, December 31, 2007

From the Idiot's Mouth

"It is true of idiots, that the more absurd and foolish they are, and the more their opinions diverge from those universally held, the more likely are they to utter no word which they will wish to recall" - St. Augustine in Letter 143 to Marcellinus (A.D. 412)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Raising a Glass to the Methuen Treaty

What in the world is the Methuen Treaty, you ask? Well, if you haven't googled it, let me tell you: It was a treaty between Great Britain and Portugal. Among its lasting effects were the political solvency of Portugal's colony, Brazil. However, I have precious little interest in that. Rather, I want to get to the meat of the matter...port wine.

You see, France and England were having a tiff and so Englishmen couldn't get French wines. (Remember that England hadn't grown many wine-grapes since the end of the Medieval Warming Period which our global warbling friends refuse to acknowledge.) The Portuguese started exporting their wine to Britain. Unfortunately, it would spoil while in transit. Thus, to reduce spoilage, they began "fortifying" it with brandy and other hard liquor. The result? Port, or course!

I admit that I'm an unrepentant Anglophile, and am particularly appreciative of the little rituals that have grown up around the enjoyment of port. So enjoy a glass and join me in toasting the second day of Christmas with a nice tawny port.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Super Apostles from Breakpoint

As usual, the guys at Prison Fellowship / Breakpoint's Centurion program have hit the nail on the head. The latest article is about those who propose to "clean up" the preaching of the apostolic gospel. Removing repentance before God for your personal sin is the cornerstone of their teaching. Sometimes it comes in the form of an easy believism - no repentance necessary because you've only made "mistakes" (instead of acts of cosmic treason against God's character). Other times, it's a gospel of other people's sin - whether it's those col-darned secular humanists or those earth-hatin' capitalists.

Either way, on this feast of St. Stephen the Protomartyr, it's time that we abandoned the myth of comfortable, middle-class religiosity and accepted that the apostolic faith demands a life given over to scorn and rejection.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

True Colors of the Season

The two colors most widely associated with Christmas (in the Western hemisphere, at least) are red and green. Well, as the guys at Acton keep reminding us, Green is the new RED.

Of course, there's plenty of green to be made by going Green. Al is raking it in since being run out of politics. Hey...jet fuel is expensive, gang. More than that, he needs capital for his start-up cap-n-trade system. And he has to have hush money available for when the scientists start finding serious holes in his Armageddon scenarios. (especially when it's contrary to his "established fact of man-made warming in the last century")

Look...Al is a creative guy. I'll bet that if he wasn't trying to save the world or invent the internet, he could have single-handedly scabbed the Screenwriter's Guild walk-out. But his creativity (er...divinity? PRAISE THE GORACLE!!!) needs to cool it. This global warming nonsense is going to cost developing nations their chance at making the earth a suitable habitat for mankind.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, I also hate it when corporations try to pander to Christians with crappy products. They hope that making some relationship to Christianity is going to fuel sales. Unfortunately - as is the case for the minute-ecocrusaders - Christians are in lines waiting to hand their green over for the pap as well. sigh....

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Become a Latin Lover

For the past several years, I've taught or tutored homeschoolers in Latin. They always love to learn insults, come-backs, catch-phrases, and pop-culture references in Latin. It makes a memorable "sticking point" for them to mentally hang grammatical concepts. Exempli gratia: "So if I want to tell my little brother to go away, I use the singular imperative abi. But if it's all my brothers and sisters, plus my parents, a hortatory subjunctive like abeâtis might be in order?"

I'm not really all that good at Latin composition, so I rely on a string of books to help me through some populist constructions. Henry Beard's lampooning work has been reliable, and Eugene Ehlich always lends a high-brow hand-up. However, when I was in London, I came upon a title that I just knew I had to have: Amo, Amas, Amat...And All That, or How to Become a Latin Lover. Unfortunately, by the time it came to America, the subtitle had been changed to Carpe Diem: Put A Little Latin in Your Life., modiolus est.

No snickering about the name of the author: Harry Mount.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Prolife Prochoice Gun-toting Non-violent

Following the shootings in Colorado, the religious blogs have been ablaze. Some folks have been saying that religious organizations can't have armed guards. Others are saying that it was God's good blessing that lethal force was available to stop a murderous rampage.

I'll just admit that I'm torn on the issue. A fellow seminarian returned his concealed-carry license when he came to seminary, and I can respect that. (He didn't give up his guns, but since he couldn't have them at seminary he thought it best not to have a usable license that he wasn't going to use.) Yet I also grew up with a pistol packin' padre. (I never knew about it until we were in a very rough section of Virginia Beach, VA.)

What I think I can safely say is this: if there is any grey area that allows someone to be pro-life by conviction, but pro-choice in practice then the same license should be granted to someone who is non-violent by conviction, but pro-gun ownership.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Seminary or Cemetary

"I would advise no one to send his child where the Holy Scriptures are not supreme. Every institution that does not unceasingly pursue the study of God's word becomes corrupt. Because of this we can see what kind of people they become in the universities and what they are like now. Nobody is to blame for this except the pope, the bishops, and the prelates, who are all charged with training young people. The universities only ought to turn out men who are experts in the Holy Scriptures, men who can become bishops and priests, and stand in the front line against heretics, the devil, and all the world. But where do you find that? I greatly fear that the universities, unless they teach the Holy Scriptures diligently and impress them on the young students, are wide gates to hell." - Martin Luther

CPMs of the world, take note!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Merry Shucksmas

Apparently John Shuck has his panties in a wad over the House of Representatives voting to give a hat-tip to Christmas. He invokes the almighty wall of separation between church and state. Funny...from this blogpost, you'd think he didn't like walls that kept blood-thirsty religious nuts from damaging otherwise democratically run institutions.

What really gets my goat, however, is that he pretends to be taking the high-road of neutrality in church-state relations. I might be able to swallow that if he'd posted something similar when the House passed an identically worded resolution honoring Ramadan. But let's face the facts: the guy hates Christmas almost as much as he hates the virgin-born Lord of the Church.

update: I almost forgot to mention this. I admit that, as a Reformation junkie, I don't get as worked up about Christmas as I do about Easter or even every single Lord's Day. Moreover, the whole "war on Christmas" bit is overplayed by folks in my camp. Nevertheless, I find this anecdote illustrative.

I was examined for candidacy at First Elizabethton, where John serves as guru. The presbytery meeting was held in December, so the nice elder that was hosting us wished us "Happy Holidays." A moment of silence passed, after which an astute elder seated behind me shouted "And a MERRY CHRISTMAS as well!"

First Liz regularly hosts awareness events for other religious celebrations. However, I'm afraid they've forgotten (more likely forsaken) their own....

A Surprise from NPR

On Wednesday morning, NPR's writer's almanac featured this poem. I recommend visiting their page and hearing Garrison Keillor read it.

"Upon Seeing an Ultrasound Photo of an Unborn Child" by Thomas Lux, from The Drowned River. © Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990

Upon Seeing an Ultrasound Photo of an Unborn Child

Tadpole, it's not time yet to nag you
about college (though I have some thoughts
on that), baseball (ditto), or abstract
principles. Enjoy your delicious,
soupy womb-warmth, do some rolls and saults
(it'll be too crowded soon), delight in your early
dreams — which no one will attempt to analyze.
For now: may your toes blossom, your fingers
lengthen, your sexual organs grow (too soon
to tell which yet) sensitive, your teeth
form their buds in their forming jawbone, your already
booming heart expand (literally
now, metaphorically later); O your spine,
eyebrows, nape, knees, fibulae,
lungs, lips... But your soul,
dear child: I don't see it here, when
does that come in, whence? Perhaps God,
and your mother, and even I — we'll all contribute
and you'll learn yourself to coax it
from wherever: your soul, which holds your bones
together and lets you live
on earth. — Fingerling, sidecar, nubbin,
I'm waiting, it's me, Dad,
I'm out here. You already know
where Mom is. I'll see you more directly
upon arrival. You'll recognize
me — I'll be the tall-seeming, delighted
blond guy, and I'll have
your nose.

h/t to my twin

Oh, and since this is a theological blog, use this as an opportunity to think through the possibility of traducianism vs. creationism as pertains to the human soul. While you're at it, pick a fight with your pastor about how many angels can dance on the point of a needle. (My baptist friends already know the answer: Angels don't dance....or, if you've read Good Omens, pp. 256ƒ, the answer is one.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bumper Sticker Theology

There are some cities where people tend to wear their brain on their bumpers. Don't get me wrong, I like bumperstickers. But many fall short of the truth. That's why I want to start making some with more truthiness or, as the case may be, faithiness. Here's my first stab.

What do you think?

Saturday, December 08, 2007


Anybody else getting tired of the bloggers who like to pretend that persons with DOCTRINAL theological convictions are mouth-breathing morons? Well, rejoice...demotivational posters are coming to a blog near you.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Getting Hitched to the Greens

Churches around the country spent last Saturday doing what most Rethuglicans would like to do: hanging the Greens. I was out of town, so I didn't get to help. Nevertheless, it's well past time I joined the Green movement. Thus, I've decided to stay married.

It's not that I was thinking about getting unmarried, mind you. It's just that folks have been telling me how awful marriage is for society and and how the number one product of marriage (no, not social stability & financial freedom but children) is so bad for the environment that killing them, then sterilizing yourself is the only moral option left (VERY left).

You see, according to doctors Eunice Yu and Jianguo Liu, divorce is REALLY BAD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT. For instance, divorced households:
  • used 73 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and 627 billion gallons of water that could have been saved had household size remained the same as that of married households.
  • spent more per person per month for electricity compared with a married household, as multiple people can be watching the same television, listening to the same radio, cooking on the same stove and or eating under the same lights.
  • demanded 38 million extra rooms, with associated costs for heating and lighting (an increase 33 percent to 95 percent greater than in married households).
That means some $6.9 billion in extra utility costs per year, Liu calculated, plus an added $3.6 billion for water, in addition to other costs such as land use. "The research," Liu said, "shows that environmental policy is more complex than one single solution. Governments across the world may need to start factoring in divorce when examining environmental policy." (Read their article here.)

It's long been said that when the scientist reaches the top of the mountain, they'll find that the philosophers and the theologians have been there for quite some time. Thus it should be no surprise to us that God's design for family is consistent with good environmental stewardship. Christians who want to have an impact on society do their best by obeying the great commission, not by licking their fingers and seeing where the winds of change are blowing.

more research here....

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Miracles not on 119 West F Street

I try to leave John Shuck alone these days (he started deleting my comments, so what's the point of seeing him outside of a PJC?). But his recent post on miracles cuts to the heart of the disagreement that I and most other orthodox Christians have with him. Strangely enough, it's not THE GAY. It's THE MIRACULOUS.

The dividing line has already been drawn - we're just rehashing it hoping to come up with a different result. Machen, in his book title Christianity and Liberalism, showed that non-supernatural / modernist Christianity (which he termed liberalism) and supernatural / fundamentalist Christianity (which he simply called Christianity) are in fact two separate religions sharing a common source and some overlapping language. Of it, he said:
There is much interlocking of the branches, but the two tendencies, Modernism and supernaturalism, or (otherwise designated) non-doctrinal religion and historic Christianity, spring from different roots. In particular, I tried to show that Christianity is not a "life," as distinguished from a doctrine, and not a life that has doctrine as its changing symbolic expression, but that--exactly the other way around--it is a life founded on a doctrine.
Trying to be "nice" about it has let the bomb get bigger before it blows up in everyone's face. It would have been better to take a different route (especially in our denomination) 80+ years ago.

If you'd like to read on the historic and philosophical arguments that support the Bible's claims of the miraculous, visit (and support) Greg Koukl's ministry at Stand to Reason. I also highly recommend the work of Gary Habermas on miracles generally and especially on the resurrection of Jesus.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Plant a tree or plant a question?

Senator Hillary R. Clinton's campaign chose to plant at least one question at a recent Iowa town hall meeting. It's fair to say that many campaign managers have done this over the years. Issues are complex, and candidates need an opportunity to put the questions that they've been working hard to answer out there in the public venue. However, this should never be at the expense of listening to the questions that Americans are genuinely asking.

I'm not a political strategist, but I can't help that thinking owning up to it would be a smart move, dispelling the haze of distrust that is still over her from her days with slick-Willy. It would be easy to say that she had no knowledge, but it doesn't get her anywhere. Instead, she could take a Ron Paul approach and say that we need to focus on this (or any other issue) instead of being distracted by Xxx issue.

I wish it had turned out a little better for the Clinton campaign. I think she would have preferred something like this. That would have been more enjoyable. I dunno....whatever happened to the days when being an environmentalist meant that you planted a tree and not a question?

US Climate Data Shows Cooling Trend

This site is just too cool...pun intended. It shows how the earth was warming up through the 1930s, then started dramatically cooling, then warming again (but not that rapidly). Make sure that you test both the long-haul and since roughly 1973. The differences will astonish you.

It brings to mind C. S. Lewis' critique of chronological snobbery:
Every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and especially liable to make certain mistakes. We all therefore need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period.... None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books.
For more info, check out Global Warming Heartland.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Progressive Pro-Life Politics

The Charlotte Observer recently ran an interview with veteran liberal evangelical Tony Campolo. He's giving a sort of "What Would Jesus Do" response to several hot-button issues. While I resist the works righteousness he displays (particularly in his answer to Muslims), I found a shining gem in the middle of the rough:
Abortion: "I'm sure that the destruction of life in abortion would break his heart. However, I feel like if he were speaking to the church today in America, he would ask not the question, `Are you going to make it illegal and arrest women who have abortions?' I think Jesus would say, `What are you going to do to reduce the number of abortions?'

(A new survey reported that) 70 percent of all abortions are economically driven. You have a poor woman working on minimum wage with no hospitalization. She gets pregnant. She can't afford to have the kid, she can't afford to pay the hospital bills, she can't afford day care after the child is born. So she says, `I'm going to have an abortion.' Can Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives agree on one thing: that it's wrong for women who want to have their babies to have abortions? And that's about 70 percent of them. Then we can start talking about the other 30 percent."

He's the PhD sociologist, so I'm not going to go after his numbers (though I think the percentage that is purely economic are higher, in terms of "lifestyle" normally being a product of having enough money to support the rearing of a child without infringing on your current freedoms and expendable resources). But in my own reflection on abortion, this is an area that needs to be seriously addressed.

Jesus taught us to count the costs before undertaking the cross of discipleship. The interesting thing about his parable is that it focuses on the outcome, not the principles. This is an odd thing for Jesus, but he does it anyway. The Spirit has cut me to the quick more than once about this. Too often, I have contented myself with dialogging with those who are just as recalcitrant as I. It's important, but it's rare to see any change. There have been times when I have been part of responding to crises where my action made a difference. Abortion is one of those issues where concentrated Christian response on the economic issue could make a real difference.

May God help all who take purposive aims at eliminating the American Holocaust that is abortion.

Enlightened Democracys

I'm a big fan of participatory democracy. However, I don't think that democratic ideals can serve as the basis of political ideology (or even of good church government). Why? Because they assume too much to stand on their own.

Some people seem to think that if we just spread the values of the Enlightenment to other countries, that they will become freer by default. As Chuck Colson examines the discrimination against Dalits in India, he has some excellent thoughts about the necessary presuppositions that lay the substratum of true political liberalism (the good kind).
The situation in what’s called the “largest democracy in the world” reminds us that “democracy” and elections are not enough—there needs to be a commitment to the “first freedom”: freedom of religion. There needs to be a recognition that all freedoms grow out of what one of our founders James Madison called “the act of freedom by which each responds to the call of his Creator.”
Without an understanding that there is a Creator to whom we are accountable, and that that Creator made all people, freedom quickly loses any real meaning. Freedom from religion is impossible...we are homo adorans. We will worship ourselves or our ideals, our money or our power, sex or trees if we are not worshiping the true and living God. Freedom in its fullest sense cannot occur in unconverted lands...including our own.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Why Not the Persecuted Church

It seems that we PC(USA) Presbyterians can set apart a Sunday to focus on just about anything but the persecuted church. (Please remember Nov. 11 as International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.) I wonder if it could be because they are ashamed at the persecution of churches that they are bringing about right now?

This Sunday, they've chosen Stewardship Committment as the focus. I'm hearing a lot about stewardship these days from our denominational officials. We're asked to give, and told to leave something for them in our wills. All of that is fine and dandy (yes...I have a Christian organization in my meager will). But let's make sure we understand what they mean by stewardship...particularly as it relates to the property trust clause and congregations that wish to cease affiliation with the PCUSA. Let's not kid ourselves...they are so concerned with enforcing the property trust clause that they file amicus briefs on behalf of other denominations (and other religions, in the case of "Christian Scientists") when their property trust is challenged. It's all about precedent.

May God bless those who struggle for the persecuted church. May he bless those presbyteries that reject the power-politics of the "Louisville Papers."

(My spoof on the trust clause is hosted initially at the Pres-Outlook. I reproduce it here for "posterity":)

Per Capita (with apologies to Isaac Watts)
(ELLACOMBE CMD "I Sing the Mighty Power of God," PH# 288)

I sing the property trust clause
That keeps our folks in line!
Per capita and scoff'd at laws,
Yet we say "That's just fine!"
While Gospel preaching dies away,
We endorse ab'rrant views,
Headquarters gets dressed in feng shui
And empties out our pews!

The Scriptures are ignored by most,
and twisted by the rest.
The unconverted serve as hosts
and we act undistressed.
While many choose to stand and fight,
some throw their towel in.
We've chosen this unenvied plight
for lack of discipline.

Tune: Gesangbuch der H. W. k. Hofkapelle, Wurtemberg, Germany, 1784

Hat tip to JP over at Reformedville.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Millions of Afghanis Thankful for US Military Intervention

I hope this gets the press it deserves. As a conservative American, I'm against our current focus on nation building...yet I can't help but laud the freedom that George W. Bush's aggressive policies have brought into some of the darkest regimes on earth.

Putting the Mental in Fundamentalism

One of the chief problems in dialogue between fundamentalists and progressivists is a lack of proper epistemological foundations. (I know -- you probably want to change channels before I get started....). Epistemology is, in essence, the science of how we know stuff. If someone says that they know the world is going to end, a good question to ask is "How do you know that?" There are lots of people in both camps who believe they know far more than they do. But when the point is pressed, it's often the case that the knowledge rests in someone else's experience (an author they read, "the news," etc...). That's pretty much the case for all of us outside of our narrow range of familiarity and expertise.

The world is a complicated place. We don't have time to become first-hand experts on everything, so we choose to trust experts who have done that hard work. I have to trust that the guy under the hood of my car knows what he's doing. He learned from other people who spent time under the hoods of cars, who in turn learned from still others (as well as having experiences of their own). This is how knowledge works in the real world - by tradition (from the Latin trāditiō [tradō] , "a giving up, delivering up, surrender" or "pass on"). The expression "Let's not reinvent the wheel" is based on the pragmatic truth that we aren't always (or even most of the time) in a position to improve the way we do things. If you don't rely on some tradition, you'd always have to experiment (and would have no time to actually live).

People of all sorts receive traditions that they don't test, but accept prima facie (especially when there's an authority figure behind it). When I was a fledgling medico, I took it on faith that the tradition handed down in textbooks on physiology were solid and well-tested. I didn't see any need to go out and perform bio-chemical experiments to verify everything they said. The same is true for pretty much every discipline (save, perhaps, philosophy). We accept on authority what we haven't the time, skills, or necessity to pursue further. That's life, and don't let anybody shame you for being realistic.

In the arena of human religious experience, America has gone overboard with denouncing spiritual authority and tradition. While most people couldn't get past two sentences on why they believe in materialistic evolution ("well...I'm not an expert!" "Everybody knows there's no need in pressing the matter further!" "It's in textbooks!"), if you dissent from that position you are expected to be an encyclopedia of refutational data. It's not fair, but that's how evolution deniers are treated. (Global Warming deniers are in the same boat, though the second the shoe is on the other foot, authority is appealed to.)

I think that the general populace has a fundamental misunderstanding of how biblicists approach the world. They seem to think that when we find conflicts or disagreements between what is encountered in one area of human experience and what is revealed in Scripture, that we just mindlessly toss out the contrary. Nothing could be further from the truth. We do not believe that we have the right to toss out evidence from either book of God's revelation (i.e., the created order and the Scriptures).

Cornelius Van Til said that there's no such thing as a brute fact or a mute fact. Every fact is tied to its creator and finds its meaning and significance in relation to God. (Mikhail Bakhtin makes much the same point in terms of literary addressivity and authorship - so you see postmodernists also acknowledging this truism.) As people who have been convinced of the trustworthiness of the Scriptures by a supernatural working of the Holy Spirit (WCF 1.1), we are intellectually compelled to align every fact we encounter in relation to its creator. We know from the Scriptures that the whole created order has fallen into disrepair. We also know that our own heart (the Biblical word for the seat of intellect and will) twists our experiences and hides the truth from us.

Because we know that we have a corrupted source of information in the fallen natural order and are incapable of perceiving the truth through our own devices, we set every truth claim against the backdrop of Holy Writ. We are not free to throw out what we find in nature, but are compelled to seek the personally-perceptable order placed therein by a rational, personal God.

As for the special revelation - the Holy Scriptures - it's not the fundamentalists who feel free to rearrange the Word to our liking (vide supra).

Monday, November 05, 2007

The GAY and the GOSPEL

John Shuck delights in deleting my comments, no matter how irenic. So if I'm to respond honestly to anything over at Shuck-n-Jive, I have to do it here.

Flycandler, who claims to be an unrepentant homosexual Presbyterian who studies at Candler School of Theology, ponders why we evangelicals in the mainlines can't admit that we really just want to be institutionally homophobic. He implies that, in addressing our grievances about what's wrong in our churches, we can't do it without mentioning THE GAY. (Funny, but I seem to remember history telling a different story about who keeps bringing the issue up.

Anyway, here's what I said:
Anybody ever notice that the Progressives can't bring up justice, the love of Jesus, etc. without also bringing up "THE GAY"?

When we forget the Gospel (succinctly stated in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8), ALL of us get sidelined and tend to major in the minors.
That's the point...we keep getting into each others shorts because we welched on the Gospel. Polity is not going to solve this problem. The only thing that will is repenting and agreeing that the Bible says what God intends for it to say!

Remember Remember the 5th of November

Since I was out of town, I couldn't blog about my favorite holiday (Reformation Day, of course)! So I'd at least like to give some lip service to another success for the Gospel.

Happy Guy Fawkes Day, everybody!

(Now that's some parliament funk!)

Here's to 490 years of the Gospel recovered, and 402 years of the Gospel in England providentially defended!

Mad NOW Disease?

Make sure you pay attention to countries that have already given governmental approbation to the homosexual agenda of normalizing their practice. Great Britain has already bit the bullet, and you can see the effects in the latest Telegraph.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

NWAC - Mission or Misogyny

The vice-moderator of New Wineskins Association of Churches is a woman who is a pastor, and their Executive Coordinator is also a woman who is an elder. There were several female pastors I met there, as well as numerous female elders. The reason that you'll see more men in leadership within NWAC is because NWAC is all about congregations, not institutions. In the PCUSA, men outnumber women 5:1 in terms of call as pastors/co-pastors. Blame it on sexism if you like, but the truth is that women outnumber men in most "specialized ministries." NWAC isn't about schools, hospitals, or bureaucratic offices - it's about local congregations trying to follow Jesus. So when you see men outnumbering women there, it's a reflection of their mission, not misogyny.

John Shuck's statements are both libelous and inaccurate, and they reveal far more about him than they do about the NWAC.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

New Wineskins Reflections

First, I want to thank the good Presbyterians of Cuero, TX. Your benevolence towards me will not be forgotten. It was such a time of refreshing and reconnecting with my call to the ministry of the Word that I can hardly express my gratitude. It was also good to meet your pastor and so many other blogging friends. I was able to pray with them, break bread with them, and smoke with them!

Second, I want to thank Gerrit Dawson for submitting to the leading of the Holy Spirit in departing from his assigned text to focus on John 18. I believe God spoke encouragement directly to my presbytery situation through that text (see around time sig 48:00). It was also exactly my experience in seminary (and here).

Third, John Shuck has started blogging about New Wineskins. Great. He says that when representative bodies decide on taking an action, then we should accept that action and obey its mandates* even if we disagree (and choose to work for change). I think it's the height of irony that a man who endorses those in willful direct violation of our constitutional standards should turn around and tell the Reformed Evangelicals of our denomination to tow the line or lose your property. Ironic...but far from surprising.
* "I think it is great that you advocate for change. I do, too. We have the best process available to enact change. Whether or not people agree or disagree with the Theological Task Force report or whatever, it was passed by a representative body. It is very different to work for change and go with the process even when your vote is not in the majority from not getting your way and then trashing the place on your way out."

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence meet the Congregation of Unending Tolerance

Because what happens in one part of the body effects the rest, I offer a link to some excellent commentary on the unfolding tragedy in the Roman Catholic and Episcopal Churches. This has also been an issue I've discussed with other Candidates under care of the PCUSA. Unfortunately, it was largely an exercise in missing the point.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Making a Run for the Border

This is not a post about illegal aliens crossing a sovereign nation's borders.

Rather, this is about muddle-headed officers of the PCUSA who don't seem to understand what the Bible teaches about God and the "limits" of what we can say about him.

A God without boundaries is a "god" who can be both for the oppression of people and against the oppression of people.

To say that God is without boundaries is to make God a piece of putty with which we can do whatsoever we desire. The true and living God says that WE are the clay...not Him.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Scripture or Schism?

A recent pastoral letter was sent from the Holy that assured presbyteries that they should act to those who find themselves under the teaching of "schismatics" like those right-wing woman-hatin' NWACs. As always, there's so much to learn about the faithfulness of our demonimation (just don't lay the white-wash on too thick or the fragile exterior might crumble).

The Office of Theology and Worship (whom I deeply respect and, in fact, interned for) was asked to write a response to the charge of apostasy. It reiterated Calvin's concern over the major heads of doctrine being agreed upon ("God is one; Christ is God and the Son of God; our salvation rests in God’s mercy; and the like"). While it didn't expand on those, it is sufficient to note that Presbyterian ministers can routinely deny even the doctrines mentioned and still maintain their credentials / posts as teaching elders. More helpful is how they flesh out a basis for deductive reasoning which leads one to say, "you should leave this particular church / institution" on pages 6ƒ.

On pages 890-891 of his A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, Robert Reymond gives a specific line of reasoning to deduce a singular reason for separation: "separation from one's church or denomination is appropriate if it will not discipline heretics." This conclusion is reached by the following line of reasoning:
  1. Elders are charged to guard the church by guarding the truth
  2. Apostates and heretics ought to leave the church
  3. Unrepentent heretics who do not leave the church should be disciplined
  4. Churches that will not discipline heretics become apostate
And the 4th point is painfully problematic in the PCUSA.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Towards a Theology of Invective

Michael Bauman has lots of good thoughts. Here's a snippet from his work on a theology of invective:
We Christians rightly recognize Christ as the very embodiment of love. But Christ was no bleeding heart, and He was no invertebrate. The “gentle Jesus meek and mild” never existed. He is a nineteenth and twentieth century fiction. The historical Jesus was another matter altogether. At various times, and when the situation demanded, the real Jesus publicly denounced sinners as snakes, dogs, foxes, hypocrites, fouled tombs and dirty dishes. He actually referred publicly to one of his chief disciples as Satan. So that his hearers would not miss his point, He sometimes referred to the objects of his most intense ridicule both by name and by position, and often face to face....

The objection raised by the invertebrates that Jesus spoke aggressively only to self-righteous Pharisees simply misses the point. Any sinner who rejects repentance, or any sinner who holds repentance at bay because he somehow believes it is not for him, is self-righteous.
See the rest here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My New Theme Song

I've had Chris Tomlin working on a theme song for me to use like a busker while I'm out trying to get a job. Tell me what you think:

[To the tune of Indescribable ]

Coming up from the mountains of East Tennessee.
A troublemaker from Holst'n Presbytery
Pro-life fundamentalism, vigor and spite
Rebutting the liberals with all of his might.
He's worth shunning

Thumps his Bible, he's unordainable,
What's with this guy? He puts St. Athanasius to shame!
Calling their Marxism fraud!
Confessional, pharisaical,
Falwell could take a few pointers on how to disclaim,
From this irascible clod!

Ever haughty, he tells his teachers where to go.
Disregarding their syllabus, looking for quotes.
Taking classes from Baptist gives the deans a fright.
So they tell him in meetings: "Chris, that just aint right!
They're the bad ones!"

Thumps his Bible, he's unordainable,
What's with this guy? He puts St. Athanasius to shame!
This seminarian's odd!
Pugnacious and untrainable,
Group therapy might not fix him or make him obey.
He presumes to hear from God....

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Excellent Reflection on Environmentalist Messianic Complexes

These guys do an excellent job of sussing out some of the theological language - dressed up as science - that is currently making the rounds. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Cost of Being Offensive

The accidental shape of this US Navy building is going to cost the US Tax Payer $600K to fix.

Can we all agree that a military which freed hundreds of thousands of Jews from Nazi death camps and continues to shield Israel is not antisemitic? I wish some sensible leaders of Jewish communities (as well as others that suffered atrocities at the hands of the Nazis) would rise up and say that the US military owes no one an apology for this.

By the way, where's the Patriot Act when we need it to prevent satellite fly-overs of our military establishments?


Tom Potoms sums up the thought of Samuel Francis in this way: 'we refuse to control real criminals (that's the anarchy) so we control the innocent (that's the tyranny)....Policemen, certainly in Europe (I can’t talk about the U.S.), are afraid of being accused of racism or fascism by the progressive elite and bureaucracy. Therefore, they put more effort into public relations (that means promoting progressivism) than doing what they are supposed to do, reducing crime. A very good example of this progressive laissez-faire attitude towards crime and criminals is the following statement of the leader of the Walloon socialists, Elio Di Rupo, speaking to the French socialist party: “une société avec beacoup de police et des cours de justices, c’est une société violente;” “a society with many police and many courts of justice is a violent society.”'

Friends, this is the opposite of what the Noahide covenant demands. And it's precisely what many people who think themselves sensitive or justice-oriented demand - that those who obey the law sacrifice their cultural advantage for those who choose to disregard the law.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Another Salvo from the Religion of Peace

A picture that I saw from the Columbia University protests over Ahmadinejad's invitation to speak there sent me into action. Here's a letter I wrote.

I am writing to inform you that one of your employees at the New York branch office has represented your company in a very poor light. And he has also brought shame on my friends who are of Turkish ancestry.

Mr. Burus, a financial analyst with your New York branch office since April, was exercising his right of free speech at a protest on the campus of Columbia University. The protest was organized by students who rejected the presence of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
from Iran, a man who has continually threatened the sovereignty and safety of neighboring countries. Your employee, Mr. Burus, was photographed twice carrying a sign that reads as follows: MAY ALLAH MAKE A MUSHROOM CLOUD OVER 'ISRAEL' He then gives the URL of his website,, which is an online resume listing Vakif Bank as his employer.

Here is a shortened version of the URL that should be easy to input so that you can see the pictures yourself:
The original is:

Mr Burus has the right to speak his mind and believe whatever he wants to believe. However, when he publicly risks your company's reputation, I believe that you owe it to your stockholders to investigate the matter and take action against any possible financial harms he may bring about as a result of his violent statement.

Thanks for being proactive about this. I'll be watching for a notice of his release from employment.

You can let Vakif Bank know what you think about their employee's reprehensible statements.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Greedy Marriage or How Marriage Ruins Everything

Okay...did they statistically control for the fact that a large part of those helpful-to-parents young unmarrieds are doing the dishes and taking out the trash because they still live with their parents?

Also, did they control for the navel-gazing tendencies of current American cultural schemes? We paint marriage as if it were the ultimate in self-fulfillment instead of the covenantally blessed bedrock for child-rearing that God intended it. No wonder such self-serving marriages (many of which end in "no-fault" divorce) fails to create community. It's inwardly focused in the first place!

(No...I'm not slamming on childless couples. Mohler does enough of that.)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Just Kitting

Okay, this site is way too esoterically fun. But since my vestments post has made a big splash, and I'm qualified to be the pontiff (despite uxorque amita mea), I couldn't resist.

If you are looking for quality hand-made vestments, let me suggest Work of Her Hands. The proprietess is a whiz with the needle and cloth, and one heavenly mother!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Maranatha anathema!

Dang...that's scary!

Your Score: Pope
You scored 100 Knowledge and 86 Holiness!
You hold an elected and ordained office in the Church. You are the Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ, the Servant of the Servants of God. You are the Supreme Pontiff. You are the head of the Church and the infallible leader of one billions Christians worldwide. If you hold true to the teachings of Holy Mother Church and lead with the Holy Spirit, your reward in heaven will be great.
Link: The Catholic Clergy Test written by charmer1985

This explains my difficulties with getting the union card...

The 96% comes from not affirming apostolic succession through the laying on of hands. (I believe that it is doctrinal, through continuing in their teaching, since the Twelve aren't recorded as having established officers at all of the churches of the NT letters!)

Your Score: Orthodox.

You are 96% Orthodox.

Congratulations, you know Christianity, but perhaps need to brush up on a couple of points about it.

Link: The Christian Orthodoxy Test written by kingariston
This at least explains why some folks think I have a personality defect of seeking "easy answers." (Which completely ignores my personal history of wrestling with each point of orthodoxy tested herein.)

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Neither Harm nor Destroy on all My Holy Mountain

The Palestinian Muslim authorities are advancing their claim that the Jewish Temple was never on the Temple Mount by digging it up. Too bad they have to overlook all those carved marble porticoes they keep tossing aside!

Chilling News

It's been another bad week for the global warming alarmists. The Senate's committee on environment and public works has publicized two recent critiques of the anthropogenic global warming "consensus."

The first is a report on the increasing number of peer-reviewed scientific articles showing the misguided notions (or outright false claims) of the many alarmists. Among them:
That leads into the second report about the lack of consensus amongst climate scientists.
Of 528 total papers on climate change, only 38 (7%) gave an explicit endorsement of the consensus. If one considers "implicit" endorsement (accepting the consensus without explicit statement), the figure rises to 45%. However, while only 32 papers (6%) reject the consensus outright, the largest category (48%) are neutral papers, refusing to either accept or reject the hypothesis. This is no "consensus."

The figures are even more shocking when one remembers the watered-down definition of consensus here. Not only does it not require supporting that man is the "primary" cause of warming, but it doesn't require any belief or support for "catastrophic" global warming. In fact of all papers published in this period (2004 to February 2007), only a single one makes any reference to climate change leading to catastrophic results.
Don't be fooled by the guff of those who want to set us on a backwards trajectory. Otherwise, you'll find out all too soon the answer to a bad joke: What's green on the outside, but red to the core? Well...these guys. And don't forget these guys.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mission and Postcolonialism

In the light of the Taliban's recent hostage situation with a group of Korean missionaries, a lot of people are asking what boundaries should be set for evangelism. Should Christians go into countries and spread the love and Lordship of Jesus? In the midst of the anguish of our sisters and brothers, some have said that we should take a diversity/pluralist view (if for nothing other than pragmatic safety reasons). If I hadn't seen it so many times before, I would have to laugh at how certain sectors of "the West" are trying to push their idea of palatable religion onto the flaming zeal of these faithful martyrs. (Umm...isn't that pushing your cultural agenda? Or is nebbish sensitivity training an indigenous part of all human cultures?)

Forutunately, I've thought about this, too. What are the appropriate limits of the gospel? Whence its perspicuity? What about the exportation of women's liberation through missions? Should we cease the "circumcision" of women among African tribes that are evangelized?

As brutal and savage as one might consider that, the same thought was in the mind of most orchestrators of these 17-20th c. missionary efforts. We have not changed - we simply switch foci. Whereas missionary efforts of 150 years ago may have tried to encourage trim hair and lots of clothing (while saying nothing about the heavy-handed patriarchal family structure), today's missionaries would be content to let "natives" run around in loin cloths so long as they had adequate diversity training.

In each case, we make the fundamental mistake that the gospel is tied to our culture. When we politicize the gospel, evangelism becomes a ploy of party politics (no different from the spread of capitalism or communism "to lift people out of their misery"). The safer method - one which lets the Gospel penetrate and change a culture from within - is to lead people into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and then let the Holy Spirit come upon them to transform their culture in appropriate (if agonizingly slow) ways.

Those Cornelius moments happen and teach both missionaries and the missioned how wide God's community is.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Vestments FAQ

By request, I'm posting a document I drew up for the Office of Theology and Worship 0n the use of vestments. Peruse my predilections; I hope you'll find some use for it.

Historical Introduction

In Exodus 28 God dictated the vestments to be worn by the priests of the Old Testament; and for most items, he gave their symbolic meaning. Under the radical liberty of the New Testament, however, there is no such prescription or symbolism imposed by the Divine. Almost no Christian Church tried to use the vestments of the Aaronic priesthood. Instead, the common street clothing of the Roman Empire was used - however, rubrics from the time mention that those worn by the leader of a service should be clean and were normally white.[1] The early Christians saw their gatherings around the Eucharist as festive moments and sought to dress well, as if for a party (not out of any sense of sacerdotalism). As the Roman Empire declined in political sway, the dress of the general populace became shorter and tighter fitting, reflecting the fashions of the Germanic and Gallic tribes that had once been part of the Empire. The clergy, however, retained the older forms. Perhaps it was because at one time the tax systems of the Empire had paid their salary, or it may have been a near-universal conservative impulse among the clergy. Whatever the case, the clergy gave new symbolism to the clothing which they wore. We still have writings from the late Imperial and early medieval period where a new symbolism is gradually seen in what had once been ordinary clothes shared by everyone (see below under the description of each item for specific information).

As the centuries rolled on and the power and wealth of the Church increased, so too did its prestige. Out of an almost giddy sense of liturgical openness, following the expansion into lands far from Rome, a massive influx of music, poetry, narrative, and cultural distinctives changed the look and feel of the Church. Resources were directed toward the elaborate furnishings of the Church as worshipping communities sought to give their very best to the Church. It should be remembered that initially this was an outgrowth of the desire to honor God in their worship[2] and to provide sensory stimuli that would aid in the retention of teaching and of tradition among the illiterate. However, by the late 14th century, less noble intentions became normative. Various religious movements,[3] both lay and clergy-led, had called for radical vows of poverty and demanded that financial corruption and greed be purged from the Church. Reformed adherents to what the Puritans would later call “the Regulative Principle”[4] did away with the historic liturgical vestments as having no Scriptural mandate. In their place, the early Reformers wore their street clothes. At a time when you could tell a person’s profession by what they wore, persons with academic credentials wore their gowns at almost all times. Thus, the learned ministry wore the marks of their scholastic achievements in the pulpit. This was later enshrined and became a new sort of conservative holdover long after these clothes ceased to be everyday dress.

As the Church came into America, there grew an impulse towards simplification – silk gowns are not practical in the wilderness. Furthermore, many ministers had no formal academic degree that would entitle them to the gown of previous generations. Therefore, most Protestant ministers lost the tradition of wearing anything other than the “Sunday best.” They also noticed that this was in many ways a return to the earliest Christian communities who had no regulated forms of dress. Such egalitarianism also fit well with the ethic of the emerging country. A push toward progress relegated many traditions to a position of dusty, “Old World” obsolescence.

In recent years, particularly due to the influence of the Christian ecumenical movement, there has been a trend toward rediscovering traditions laid down by previous generations. Liturgical renewal has created a new demand for symbolism that engages as many of the senses as possible. Thus resurgence in the wearing of vestments that connect us with our forbears across time and denominational tradition is being realized. Below you will find a commonly accepted symbolic meaning for each garment as well as the ancient vesting prayer traditionally employed while one dressed, where applicable. May the reader find them edifying, profitable, and of benefit for both the wearer and worshiper.

Vestment Descriptions

The Alb is a full, white, ankle length garment. It has become popular is recent years because of its cheerful white color and innovative styling. The most ancient of Christian vestments, its origins are traced to the Roman tunic, a common piece of clothing until the 5th century. After a catechumen was baptized, they often received a bright white alb as a symbol of their spiritual washing. Thus, the alb is truly the garment of the baptized; as such, it can be worn by any baptized Christian who is taking a part in leading worship. After the fall of Rome, it became a garment unique to the clergy as normal dress. The alb was still worn by anyone providing service in the liturgy until it was supplanted by the surplice and cotta. The alb is best presented in its simplest form – without lace or ornamentation – so that its beauty may flow in its drape. Likewise, its meaning is best preserved when it is kept bright white instead of the flaxen or cream colors that are coming to dominate its usage in some places. It reminds Christians of the multitude dressed in robes, who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:14)[5]. The image reminds each believer that they now stand clothed in the righteousness of Christ and proclaims the hope that someday we will stand with that white-robed multitude washed in the blood of the Lamb. This hope is expressed in the alb’s vesting prayer: “Clothe me, O Lord, and cleanse my heart, that cleansed in the blood of the Lamb I may always enjoy eternal happiness.”

The Amice is a rectangular white cloth, worn as a collar with the alb. Originally designed to protect the finer, silken vestments from natural body and hair oils[6] and to ensure that the neck was unexposed (both for warmth and modesty). It is often omitted with contemporary albs because they close more tightly around the neck. Its historic use recalls the “helmet of salvation.” (Eph. 6:17) This vestment also served as the basis for the later academic hood. “O Lord, place on my head the garment of salvation to expose and reject the attack of the devil.”

Band or Tabs are worn on the style of academic black gown. The academic gown was originally used outside the church, but as a church garment was used first in England and later in Germany and among the Magisterial Reformers. Bands are the remnant of a wider ruff collar (such as was worn in the Elizabethan era). By the latter part of the 18th century they had become the provenance of all who had a university degree. Rarely seen in the US on anyone other than a minister, they remain in common use in the United Kingdom and Canada by barristers and academics. The shape, however, is somewhat different: barristers and graduates tend to wear bands that splay out at approximately an 30º angle and are approximately 6” long; ministers tend to wear bands that have a minimal, or even non-existent, angle so that the overall effect is of a set of bands that appear as a solid piece measuring 4” wide by 5” long. To some, the two tabs suggest the two tables of the Law (as in the Church of Scotland). Others think of “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Ti 2:15), law and gospel, or Word and Sacrament, but neither of these fanciful notions spring from original use. In some Scandinavian branches of the Church, it remains a rather wide ruff collar.

The Cassock is a full-length black or scarlet (for Doctors of Divinity) garment worn with a clerical collar. Like a fitted shirt above the waist and a full ankle-length skirt below the waist, the cassock comes in two styles. The Roman cassock buttons down the middle (traditionally having 33 buttons, one for each year in Christ’s life). The Sarum (more often called Anglican) cassock buttons at the right shoulder and the waist, with a special button on the chest for the anchoring of an academic hood. This garment began as a simple overcoat that was used for warmth by all classes of peoples in the Middle Ages. Its length was increased and the garment died dark black for the modesty of the clergy. The cassock is the traditional street clothing of the clergy. As such, it is not a liturgical garment in the strictest sense. It became a symbol of the public ministry of the gospel and for that reason was common clothing for preachers. In the pulpit, it is most often worn with bands (see above) under an open preaching gown (see below). In the liturgical churches, it is commonly worn underneath the alb or surplice. Thus, the contrast of the white on black serves as a vivid reminder that any righteousness the minister has is only by the imputation of Christ.

The Chasuble developed from the poncho-like cloak the Paul refers to in 2 Timothy 4:13. Originally it was a warm raincoat worn by virtually everyone until the time of the Frankish kings (c. ad 800). In the church of the High Middle Ages, the chasuble became a highly ornamented garment, made from expensive silks and embroidered in gold and silver thread. For that reason it became know as “the vestment.” The chasuble is worn over the alb during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Since it is exclusive to those ministers that are ordained to administer the sacrament, some associate it with the Roman Mass and sacerdotal privilege. More recently, liturgical churches of the Reformation have reclaimed this ancient, colorful and graceful vestment as more egalitarian than those vestments rooted in academic rank. Yoked around the neck and burdening the shoulders, the chasuble suggests Jesus’ words, “my yoke is easy and my burden light.” What a compelling invitation to Jesus’ supper when we recall that just before, he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28) The prayer used as the chasuble is put on reflects this, “Lord, you said, ‘My yoke is sweet and my burden is light,’ enable me always to rely on your grace and assistance.”

The Cincture is the name given to the robe or belt used around the waists of an alb or cassock. The use of such a belt in Scripture is associated with a call to serve or be ready for action. (Ex 12:11, Lk 12:35 and 1 Pe 1:13) Bible students who recall Agabus’ use of Paul’s belt (Ac 21:11) might well be reminded of the chains of persecution (Mt 5:10,11; 10:17ff) or how Jesus was bound. (Mt 27:2) The traditional cincture vesting prayer sadly suggests a confusion of law and gospel. “Bind me, O Lord, with the cincture of purity and extinguish within me unwanted passions so that I may experience the virtue of continence and chastity.”

The Geneva gown is a V-neck academic gown. Historically black, it has in recent times been used in a variety of colors, and with other adornments. It bears the name of the University of Geneva, from which Calvin adapted it for clerical use. Even to this day, its predominant use is outside the church, worn by graduates, magistrates and judges. It signifies an academically trained person and especially one performing a public function. The Geneva gown has historically been preferred in the non-liturgical protestant churches that use gowns. Historically, the gown was worn open, over a cassock and bands and, in the English-speaking churches, the hood of the preacher’s degree. The sleeves were open, wide and bell-shaped. However, as the cassock ceased to be worn under the gown, the bell sleeve had a cuff inserted to simulate the cassock sleeves underneath. It was traditionally worn with a wide scarf of silk (see Tippet below) that was later changed to velvet and sown directly onto the front of the gown. When someone has a doctoral degree, Americans show the academic rank by adding three doctoral chevrons to the sleeve. In other times and places, it has been considered most appropriate to wear the academic gown of the officiant – whether that be a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate. However, the Geneva gown (upon which the American doctoral gown is based) has a long pedigree within the Reformed tradition and emphasizes the learned preaching of the Word (the doctoral, or teaching, function of the minister). While all vestments cover up the person wearing them the Geneva gown seems to draw the worshipers attention to a void, while vestments with liturgical significance, when properly understood, focus attention on the good news which is the reason and content of our joint worship.

The Maniple is a small stole worn across the left wrist. It is worn only when the chasuble is worn during the Eucharist. Probably because it was an impractical nuisance, it fell out of usage except for Roman Catholics after the Reformation. Originally, like the linen napkin a waiter wears across his arm, the maniple was used by Roman officials as they served. It became a symbol worn by an official when serving on duty. The maniple declares: “This person is here to serve you.” While a symbol of the minister’s public calling to serve, the maniple reminds all believers that true freedom is found only in a life of serving the Lord, not sin and its appetite. “May I fittingly wear the maniple of freedom, O Lord, so that I may always take satisfaction in my calling.”

The Stole is a silk or cloth band of the color of the liturgical season, worn around the neck and hanging down at the front. Originally it was a neck scarf used to wipe the face and chase away insects. Its practical function gave way to its symbolic indication that the wearer is functioning in his called office. It became thin (normally 2-3” wide) and was worn crossed across the chest for those ordained to the presbyterate and for deacons, from the left shoulder to the right hip. The stole was always worn under the chasuble. A recent trend is for a broader stole (often called a preaching or overlay stole) that is approximately 5” wide – which has virtually brought an end to the practice of crossing the stole across the chest. It often has symbols embroidered or appliquéd onto the front at breast-level and is worn over top of the chasuble (or, in the chasuble’s absence, just the alb or surplice). The pastor’s calling is to counter the effects of sin by proclaiming the mysteries of Christ. The stole’s vesting prayer reflects this symbolism. “Give me again, O Lord, the stole of immortality which I lost in the transgression of my first parents, and though I am unworthy to come to Thy sacred mystery, grant that I may rejoice in the same everlastingly.”

The Surplice is a full long, flowing white garb with full sleeves worn over a cassock. A Scandinavian innovation, it allowed pastors serving in cold churches to wear extra-heavy, fur-lined cassocks, which wouldn’t fit under an alb. The surplice serves as an alb, and by the time of the Reformation it replaced the alb for non-communion services. Most consider its symbolism to be the same as that of an alb; however, many have taken note of an alternate symbolism. A white garment worn over a black cassock, it can be thought of as symbolic of Christ’s righteousness covering our sin, or Christ’s glory driving out darkness. The surplice is worn with a stole if ordained, an academic hood if entitled (though never together with a stole), but the surplice is never worn under a chasuble.

The Tippet, or Preaching Scarf, is worn over a preaching gown or surplice. This remnant of the academic and monastic hood developed into a garment that was used to denote a special office – normally that of chaplain to a member of the gentry. However, it also had associations with academic institutions and was always worn by those who had been granted the Doctor of Divinity degree. It is part of the official “choir dress” (what is worn at a non-sacramental service) of the churches in the Anglican Communion. The tippet is also commonly worn in very traditional Presbyterian Churches (“traditional” in a manner that is consistent with usage prior to the turn of the 20th century). At its best, it is a 36” wide scarf of silk which is cut to a length that falls approximately 4” above the hem of the academic gown. Some demand that silk be reserved for those who have a doctorate, however major clerical outfitters only seem to sell one sort so the point is often moot. The tippet is folded and gathered at the nape of the neck, often under a cord designed for the purpose (still seen on finer academic and preaching gowns today). There is little done to curb the fullness of the garment apart from that gathering, allowing it to fall in graceful folds down the front of the gown. Though it is often seen with embroidered crosses or the seal of the seminary from which one graduated, it was not originally appareled in any way. For ease of handling, many tippets now come with pleats sown in permanently for ease of donning. It should also be noted that the velvet panels down the front of the Geneva gown are derived from this vestment. It is first and foremost a sign of the learned exposition of the Word and the authority of the minister to exercise pastoral leadership – but it does not carry the connotation of sacramental authority which is so heavily invested in the stole.

Practices Within Reformed Churches

Are you surprised by the wealth of God’s Word illustrated by these garments? Suddenly they are more than strange, but beautiful clothes. They are vivid reminders of truth and potential stimulants to gospel meditation. Obviously they were created by hearts moved by the message of reconciliation in Christ. However, as they became an end to themselves instead of a means to an end, their usefulness as symbols of the extension of Christ’s continuing ministry within and to the Church were obscured. Against such abuses, the Reformers vehemently protested the use of any “sacerdotal” vestment. Yet, with the abeyance of the 16th century need to differentiate churches as either Protestant or Roman Catholic (as though those were the only viable categories) and with the increase of ecumenical activities, it seems right to re-evaluate the usefulness of ecclesiastical vesture within the modern setting. They were edifying and profitable to Christians in the past and can be to Christians in the present and in the future, so long as they convey a meaning that is not tied to mere ornament.

First, it should be noted that the magisterial Reformers set out to completely do away with any “Romish innovations” and adopted the street-clothes of their day. As noted above, at that time graduates of academic institutions dressed in a distinctive manner (which, incidentally, is largely based on monastic forms of dress). This eventually became a new form of traditional vesture that was preserved in the pulpit long after it had been abandoned in the streets.

The churches of Scotland, Ireland, Switzerland, and non-conformists (i.e., non-Anglicans) in England preserve this antiquated form of ecclesial-academic street dress most faithfully. There, the normal vesting of the minister is: full-length cassock (normally of the Sarum design), cincture (either a belt or wide strip of cloth that matches the cassock), bands and clerical collar, open gown (academic or Geneva), and (if appropriate) academic hood. The hood is worn on top of the bands. On top of the hood is often worn a scarf or tippet. If the preacher is particularly magisterial, he or she might wear a cap of some sort while not in pulpit (normally a John Knox cap or other piece of academic headgear).

One might wear the time-honored garb of the magisterial Reformation. The ubiquitous modern Geneva gown (and the “preaching gown” variations of it) is an updated version of those garments. One could certainly stretch back further in time and reclaim the cassock, gown, and bands that predominated the pulpit of Presbyterians from the 16th through the early 20th centuries. It provides for an element of sobriety and seriousness which can sometimes be inappropriately lacking in the pulpit. The caution is to recognize the legitimate human need for variety and color and provide alternative avenues for this need to be met when not done from the vesture of the minister.

Second, one might choose to wear the ancient vestments of the Church. In most Presbyterian Churches, this will not be something achieved in one week – or even one year. The strong antipathy of the Reformer’s anti-papal rhetoric still colors much of Presbyterian thought concerning church ornamentation. The renewed use of banners was largely responsible for the appearance of stoles worn over the Geneva gown. In Australia, Canada, and England – where Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians are largely governed by one ecclesiastical body (the United Church) – there has been a movement toward a uniform dress of alb and stole (with cincture optional). This has been done as a way of fostering ecumenical recognition of the clergy. The alb, being the garment of all of the baptized from ancient times, is a sign of solidarity with those who have been inducted into the common ministry of reconciliation in all times and in all places. The alb is also appropriate for any baptized church member who has a role in leading public worship (praying, assisting in the sacraments, presiding at ordinations and installations, etc.) and seems especially appropriate for officers of the Church. The stole, in like manner because of ancient use, is a sign of solidarity with all of those who have been set apart to labor in the ministry of Word and Sacrament to the Church in all times and in all places. Whether the chasuble and maniple are still too closely tied to a non-Reformed view of the sacraments is still unclear.

Thirdly, some churches that come from the magisterial reformation have chosen to abandon any type of vesture that may distinguish the pastor from any other person in the congregation. Rankled at the slightest hint of any clericalism, and affirming the verity of the priesthood of all believers, these Christians respond in a faithful manner that attempts to remove that which divides. However, we have seen that even in the adoption of street dress, certain decorum has always restricted flamboyance and immodesty.

[1] Thus you will notice the most primitive vesture of the Christian liturgical year is in the white vestments of Easter.

[2] cf. the overflowing generosity of the Israelites in Exodus 35:20-29 & 36:2-7.

[3] e.g., Waldensians, Franciscans, and the heretical Cathari and Albigenses.

[4] See Book of Confessions 6.103 and The Regulative Principle in Worship: A brief article.
by C. Matthew McMahon available at

[5] All Scriptural citations are from the New Revised Standard Version unless otherwise specified.

[6] Which could be quite substantial – in the medieval period, bathing was thought to expose one to disease. It was also seen an immodest. Perhaps this is why incense was so common in the churches!