Thursday, February 2, 2012

Strange Resonance: Uppity Reformed vs. Gospel, and Jesuits vs. Franciscans

I have this weakness for comparisons, especially when evoked unexpectedly by one thing or another that does not seem comparable, but something about the materials juxtaposed resonate:

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Social class or the Gospel: pick only one (part 1)...

(Tim: This article originally appeared in ClearNote Fellowship's newsletter. If you'd like to be added to our mailing list, please send us an e-mail.)

Each time we sat under the ministry of our much-loved Iain Murray at the old Banner of Truth conferences, the Bayly brothers could predict at some point during the Q & A sessions Murray would strike a plaintive note, asking, “Why is there no evangelism in Reformed churches?” After a while, we realized it wasn’t a question, but a lament.

No one ever suggested he was wrong. The question brought on a guilty silence.

But if Reformed congregations don’t have new births, why aren’t our churches dying? Some pollsters even say the Reformed slice of the conservative Christian pie is growing. Doesn’t this prove Reformed men have changed their priorities and are giving themselves to evangelism--that we're all missional, today?

Sadly not. Our converts have simply moved up the social register. To keep our pews filled, we depend upon men and women raised in Christian homes getting their graduate degree and trading in their parents’ Arminian church for a more respectable Reformed congregation...

The Wesleyan or Southern Baptist moves up to Presbyterian. And there in his new Presbyterian church, our convert finds the accoutrements of his new social class wonderfully reassuring. It’s the church’s zip code, the minister’s Genevan gown or collar, the frequent repetition of those peaceful words ‘providence’ and ‘sovereignty,’ the high priority placed on the education of the congregation’s Covenant children, the preacher’s thoughtful message and splendid vocabulary, and of course the high classical style of music.

There's a quote I'm fond of that does a good job of summarizing that genre of books and articles that argues these matters of taste aren't taste at all, but doctrinal orthodoxy: "All an Englishman's preferences are a matter of principle." The quote is best pulled off with a fist hitting the table to emphasize that word 'principle.'

So are there any preferences in Reformed preaching and worship, or is it all principle?

Thinking class-wise, Reformed church culture is easily understood through the lens of the aversion to risk characteristic of the upper-middle class. Our converts don’t take pride in the foolishness of the Cross so much as the wisdom of Calvin and their senior pastor’s earned doctorate from somewhere across the pond.

But this is to flip on its head the focus of the Reformers who, recalling the Apostles were “uneducated and untrained men” (But this is to flip on its head the focus of the Reformers who, recalling the Apostles were “uneducated and untrained men” (Acts 4:13), boldly returned the text of Scripture and the liturgy of worship to the vernacular—what was then called “the vulgar tongue.”--retrieved 2012/02/02 from

cf. the following, which also speaks of preferences of where minds, eyes, and hands are present or employed

The Jesuits had sought to carry out their missionary activities within the framework of Japanese society and social values. They associated primarily with the upper classes, with a view to working their way down. The Franciscans were suspicious of the Jesuit approach. They were much less well informed concerning conditions in Japan and also much less discreet in their work.[1] Instead of associating with the samurai, the Franciscans worked among the poor and forgotten, the sick and miserable, those at the very bottom of society. The Jesuits did not diguise their contempt for the ignorance and poverty of the Franciscans, the "crazy friars" (frailes idiotas) as they called them, and these sentiments were heartily reciprocated by the friars, who scoffed at Jesuit pretensions. -- p.137, "A Brief History of Japanese Civilization" by Conrad Schirokauer, (C)1993 Harcourt, Inc.


1Betrays the author's views on approaches. Material preceding explains the delicate political arrangements and balance of power in Japan with great instability and how the Jesuits, wanting to ensure access to their market, and aware that other foreign religions (e.g. Buddhism) were disfavored/persecuted/outlawed, sought to make themselves gratae by ingratiation with the higher classes, in a sort of religious trickle-down theory by which they could both introduce and encourage a foreign faith but do so without opposition or being banned.

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