The Reformed Church in America (RCA) released its Vision 2020 Report this week, and some of its diagnoses are things to be taken into account for my own EPC. The report recommends that the RCA shift to affinity-based classes rather than being geography-based, allow each classis to determine their position on LGBT marriage and ordination, creating an independent missions board to maintain the RCA’s mission work if the denomination collapses, and mandating a gracious dismissal process for all RCA congregations. The recommendation on the missions board elicited a minority report from the committee that believes “Its structure is voluntary and pragmatic. By design, the agency would be extra-ecclesial, existing outside of the connection and accountability of a covenant community.” This criticism summarizes the warning lights that the RCA’s report contains.
This report and its recommendations are necessary because the RCA has been divided for decades on questions of what its unifying standards and structures should actually be…
The North American Anglican, as is their purpose, has recently published two articles explaining and defending different aspects of historic episcopal polity. The first was an explanation by Alexander Whitaker of Anglicanism’s retention of the term “priest” to describe their ministers, the second a survey of the patristic basis for historic episcopacy by Drew Keane. Both of these article represent the problem that Presbyterians like myself have had with episcopal polity: the conclusion is determined in advance, then a justification is sought out for the practice.
Whitaker asks rhetorically,
But if in the New Testament there are no Christian priests as we know them, and if Scripture identifies Christ as our one great high priest and the church as a priesthood—where and what is the basis for having some other sort of priest at all?…Anglicans would respond that these questions should be pointers to why it is right to have priests, and what functions they serve. Indeed, it could be said that Anglicans have priests because Christ is our one priest and because his Church is a priesthood of all believers (emphasis original).
No Reformed Presbyterian should have a problem with Whitaker’s description of a priest’s function, but Whitaker’s rhetorical question raises our crucial critique…
This is one of those posts that should have been written months ago when COVID-19 was beginning to have an effect on large gatherings, but still remains relevant as churches begin the process of reopening for Sunday worship. When the coronavirus hit, state governments began banning large gatherings out of caution in order to prevent the spread of the disease, with most states banning congregational worship as a subset of these large gatherings. The question that needed to be asked then, and still needs to be asked now since COVID-19 has not evaporated and new quarantines are still a possibility, is, What duty does the church have to still meet in the face of plagues and government restrictions? Scripture teaches on the subjects of gathering for corporate worship, loving your neighbor, and submitting to the government, and so I will examine these three pertinent topics to answer this question.
The Duty to Meet For Worship
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some” (Heb. 10:24-25). These verses encapsulate the biblical teaching that the regular gathering of Christians for worship ought to be normative for the life of the believer and not set aside. This characterized the life of the church in scripture (e.g. Acts 2:42, 13:42, 20:7-10; 1 Cor. 16:1-2) and remains the duty of Christians today…
Andrew Wilson from Think Theology praises PJ Smyth’s analogy of church elders as bridesmaids:
I once took a wedding where it was pouring with rain and muddy outside the church. I was moved watching how the bridesmaids selflessly got wet and muddy to ensure that the Bride didn’t. They were clear in their minds that the day was about the Bride, not them. They were resolute in their endeavour to present a clean, dry beautiful Bride to the Groom, even if they got grubby in the process.
About a week later I preached a message entitled “Elders are Bridesmaids.”
The Bride we serve belongs to Him. We are stewards of the Son of Man’s wife. And, one day we will give an account to God for how we stewarded our responsibility as maids to his Bride (Heb. 13.7).
Last I checked, Jesus is the one who presents the bride to himself in splendor without spot or wrinkle, holy and blameless, having sanctified her with his baptism and word.
The coronavirus has forced churches to stop meeting and begin taping or livestreaming their services. My own congregation has done this several times, and it has been simultaneously a blessing to have the technology to remain connected and a horror that the church is left with a facsimile of corporate worship. This unprecedented crisis and the quality of technology have led to a significant debate for the church: can we consider the livestreaming of church services, church? Followed closely behind is the question of whether or not people participating (i.e. viewing) the livestream should be encouraged to give themselves the Lord’s Supper. This issue was further complicated within my own denomination when our Stated Clerk, Jeff Jeremiah, issued a provisional opinion permitting the practice of virtual communion, an action not unique to the EPC in this moment.
This is a serious issue: the administration of the sacraments is one of the marks of the church. Not our sacramental theology, but our sacramental practice. I am sympathetic to those who wish to have the Lord’s Supper, and hunger for it myself. And I am also sympathetic to Jeff and the calls he has to make, and acknowledge that this is only a provisional decision. But the decision is wrong and should be retracted. Yes, these are exceptional times, and the church should use all available tools to minister during them. But even with the conditions being what they are, neither the teachings of scripture, nor our confession of faith, permit people to take communion at home away from the congregation of the church– even with access to a livestreamed service…