Three Cheers for German Hymnody

In evening worship last night, I was struck by the fact that many of my favorite hymns have a common thread tying them together: Catherine Winkworth. So many excellent hymn texts have been translated by Catherine Winkworth from German to English, many of which are still sung in worship regularly. In her relatively brief career (she died in 1878 at 51), she published hundreds of hymn translations, some now obscure, but many well known and well loved. It doesn’t hurt that many of her translations are paired with Bach or Cruger tunes. To give you an idea of the pervasiveness of Winkworth’s work in our hymnals, these are some well-known Winkworth translations:

  • Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended?
  • Comfort, Comfort Ye My People
  • From Heaven Above to Earth I Come
  • How Brightly Shines the Morning Star
  • Now Thank We All Our God
  • Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
  • Whate’er My God Ordains is Right

Some may find many of her texts archaic or even opaque at times (“Hence with earthly treasure!”), but I find them poetic, rich, and dense. She also translated in a wide subject area of hymns. Here are some examples; consult your hymnal’s index to see how many Winkworth texts made it in.

From “All My Heart this Night Rejoices,” a Christmas hymn:

Shall we still dread God’s displeasure,
Who, to save,
Freely gave
His most cherished treasure?
To redeem us, he hath given
His own Son
From the throne
Of his might in heaven.

He becomes the Lamb that taketh
Sin away
And for aye
Full atonement maketh.
For our life his own he tenders;
And our race,
By his grace,
Meet for glory renders.

From “Baptized into Your Name Most Holy,” a, well, baptism hymn:

Baptized into your name most holy,
O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
I claim a place, though weak and lowly,
Among your seed, your chosen host;
Buried with Christ, and dead to sin,
Your Spirit e’er shall live within.

From “Deck Thyself, My Soul, with Gladness,” a Eucharist hymn:

Now in faith I humbly ponder
Over this surpassing wonder
That the bread of life is boundless
Though the souls it feeds are countless;
With the choicest wine of heaven
Christ’s own blood to us is given.
Oh, most glorious consolation,
Pledge and seal of my salvation.

From “Jesus, Priceless Treasure,” a hymn of trust:

Though the earth be shaking,
Ev’ry heart be quaking,
Jesus calms my fear.
Lightnings flash and thunders crash;
Yet, though sin and hell assail me,
Jesus will not fail me.

The Gospel Increases Spiritual Privileges

Bishop J.C. Ryle on infant baptism:

“Children were admitted to into the Old Testament Church by a formal ordinance, from the time of Abraham downwards. That ordinance was circumcision. It was an ordinance which God himself appointed, and the neglect of which was denounced as sin…Now if children were considered to be capable of admission into the Church by an ordinance in the Old Testament, it is difficult to see why they cannot be admitted in the New. The general tendency of the Gospel is to increase men’s spiritual privileges and not diminish them.”

And Ryle, a little later, endorsing infant baptism but confronting baptismal regeneration:

“Baptism signifies a change of state, bringing the child within the realm of grace, but it does not signify a change of nature.”

-J.C. Ryle, quoted in J.C. Ryle: That Man of Granite by Eric Russell (Christian Focus, 2001), pp.132-133

Bringing children in backhandedly

I’ve appreciated much of D.G. Hart’s diverse writing over the years, and I found myself having similar reactions as him to Justin Taylor’s interview with a credo-baptist. However, I don’t have the expert familiarity of the Westminster Confession that Hart does. That’s why I appreciated his brief reaction to the covenantal aspect of baptism in his post “Young, Restless, and Dunked.” Taylor’s interviewee accuses paedobaptists of flattening the covenants, whereas Hart (rightly) points out that Baptists are actually the ones doing the flattening. His conclusions echo my view on Reformed Baptists – that that title is something of an oxymoron.

“Baptists like John Piper who defend male headship in the home should not have trouble with such a view of familial solidarity. But in point of fact Baptists do struggle with the covenantal objection to individualism and ironically embrace the modern view of human beings as isolated and autonomous selves. Of course, they can’t go all the way with such a chilling view of babies and their relationship to the household of God and so devise dedication as a way to bring children in by the back door. But one cannot begin to count the ways that dedication is a man-made contrivance, one of those examples of what Calvin called the idol-assembly line that exists in every person’s soul.

“As an aside, Taylor’s post should put to rest the claim by the Young and Restless crowd that they are Reformed. Their position on the sacrament of baptism differs little from Anabaptist teaching. In fact, the Baptist requirement that paedo-baptists be rebaptized (hence ana-baptist) puts the teaching and practice of contemporary Baptists and Anabaptists into remarkable alignment. Does this mean that the Young and Restless or other Baptists are bad people? Of course, not. Does it mean they aren’t Christian? No. Does it mean that they should not claim to be Reformed? Well, duh!”

Regardless of one’s position, one has to acknowledge that it’s an important (albeit touchy) issue, evidenced by the bevy of comments on both of the linked postings.

From nursery to the golden oldies

An issue that has been on our minds lately is that of family inclusive, or integrated, church and worship. We are grateful that our church is mindful of the importance of the family in the covenant community, especially in matters of catechesis, worship, and activities. While there are many ways family inclusivity can manifest itself, we are especially thinking through matters of church education (i.e. Sunday School and catechesis), worship (e.g. nursery and children’s church), and programs (like youth group). We Pearces recently watched the hour-long documentary Divided, produced in large part to be a film promoting the organization Family Integrated Church (FIC).

Uber blogger Tim Challies (and author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment) ironically posted an uncharitable and one-sided review of the film. Though I am in agreement with Challies that the film is one-sided and heavy on the FIC propaganda, I think it is worth viewing for the purpose of stirring up thought on the subject. It is helpful to hear mainstream FIC proponents like Voddie Bachman explain the presuppositions of the FIC movement. Namely, why are youth and young adults abandoning the church in such huge numbers? Does the youth ghetto so prevalent in America’s churches have something to do with it? What should the role of the father (or single mother) be? It is especially helpful for those of us who are wrestling with family inclusivity over against the status quo. That is, why are we segregating ages for education, worship, and activities? What are the foundational assumptions made when doing so? Are we segregating age groups because that’s the way we’ve always done it, or because that’s how all churches do it? What does the fact that age segregation stems from a modern education paradigm mean for the church? What are the benefits? At what cost to us and our children? Are there any repercussions of segregating age groups?

Where I think the film is lacking (and where Challies’ review also lacks) is not necessarily in giving voice to the opposition (it is a documentary with an agenda, after all), but in its foundations for integrating family into the church life. The film and its FIC proponents do base their arguments on Scripture (as well as reactions against Plato, Dewey, and evolutionary thinking), but the film turns almost exclusively to the imperative commands (read: law) of Scripture for integrating the family. A more helpful approach, and one that has more Scriptural and historical staying power, is to make gospel, rather than law, the foundation of the rationale for family inclusivity. More specifically, the gospel as it is embodied in baptism and the covenant, and the covenantal community of grace that springs up organically from the gospel (see what I did there?).

Michael Horton, in his recent The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples, discusses the integration of families and youth in the life of the church, but from a different foundation than the Divided filmmakers. He grounds his reasoning in God’s gospel-bathed methods for making disciples: namely the worship of the church, baptism, union with Christ, and the covenant community. He is worth quoting at length:

“One may go from the nursery to children’s church to the youth group to the college campus ministry to small groups to the empty nesters to the golden oldies and never really have been incorporated into the communion of saints. Is it any wonder that those who have never regularly attended the public service of Word and sacrament never join a church in college, although they may be active in a campus ministry? If they do join a church after college, it’s often a new experience.

“A youth pastor in a Reformed church challenged me a bit. Youth ministries are so important, he said, because they relate to kids on their own level, ‘where they are.’ That’s just it, isn’t it? I asked. Where are they? Presumably, their location is ‘in Christ.’ They are baptized and are therefore members of the visible body of Christ, his covenant community. That’s their primary location. Just as they grow up as members of their natural families, with all of the privileges and responsibilities of that home, they grow up in Christ’s body…If [a youth] has grown up in the covenant community, he will realize that he needs the covenant community over the long haul. In addition, he needs to be reminded that his primary location is ‘in Christ,’ not his various social demographics…If they are raised with the contrast between a personal relationship with Jesus and belonging to the church – and their experience living on the margins of the covenant assembly confirms this – it is little wonder that they fail to join a church or embrace their covenant responsibilities as young adults.” (p. 174-175)

Granted, the blind spot of Divided filmmakers and even critics like Challies might stem from their anti-paedobaptism stances, in which a well worked out and established concept of the tie between baptism and covenant community is foreign. Many FIC churches might also be struggling with such issues because many of them are Calvinistic Baptist. But beyond the issue of baptizing babies or not, churches would do well to ask Why? and To what purpose? when it comes to issues of age segregating in church worship, education, and programs.

Baptism points due north

“One practical way this lifelong benefit of baptism is used is when the Christian struggles with sin and doubt. As John Calvin said, ‘Therefore, as often as we fall away, we ought to recall the memory of our baptism and fortify our mind with it, that we may always be sure and confident of the forgiveness of sins.’ Baptism is a reference point for the Christian. It is like a compass that points us due north, to Christ and our life in him. This is what Martin Luther is reported to have said to himself every morning: baptizatus sum, ‘I am baptized,’ and when he was asked ‘How do you know you are a Christian,’ he said ‘I am baptized.’ This is a statement of faith for the one who embraces Christ and his benefits signified in baptism.”

-Daniel R. Hyde in In living color: Images of Christ and the means of grace (2009), p. 147

One Lord, one faith, one baptism

In celebration of our covenant God’s promises signified and sealed to us today in Mikayla’s baptism.

For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off,
everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. -Acts 2:39

“Baptism is not so much about our profession for God as it is God’s acknowledgment of us. God is not thanking us at baptism for accepting him. He is not grateful for our profession of faith, as though he is thankful to have such committed followers as we. He is no more impressed with our vows of unwavering faith than Jesus was with Peter’s avowal to die with him. When we declare our allegiance to God and determine to follow him, picture him smiling indulgently on us, patting us on our heads, and saying, ‘that is a nice sentiment, but you are going to blow it, just like Peter did. What I want you to know by this sign is that I have made a commitment to you, and I will not blow it. Every time you fall, I will pick you up. Every time you sin, I will remain as ever faithful to my covenant as before. I will not give up on you or let you be snatched away…What the baptized is primarily confessing is not undying devotion to God, but God [is declaring his] unfailing devotion to redeeming, cleansing, sanctifying and ultimately glorifying weak, sinful believers. The sacrament of baptism is intended by God to feed our faith, to comfort and assure us.”

 -Philip G. Ryken in Give Praise to God, pp 179-180 (qtd. in R.Pearce’s sermon, 2/6/11)

Ron on the Spot: Union with Christ

My dad regularly meets with the high schoolers of his church for a “Ron on the Spot” night, at which the high schoolers are free to ask him any question they might have. He answers each question without prejudice and to the best of his ability right there, “on the spot.” It’s proved to be an excellent place for high schoolers to ask what’s on their heart as well as a great encouragement to my dad to see the maturity and growth of the high schoolers. You can tell a lot about a group by the questions they ask.

In that spirit, I recently asked my dad what the New Testament writers mean when they write about being “in Christ.” Here is his answer, Ron on the Spot style, which means casual, brief, and pastoral. I’m sure he could write a book on such a topic and still not exhaust it, or preach a year’s worth of sermons.

What does it mean to be “in Christ”?

The answer has two parts: one aspect is the sacramental, one aspect is the spiritual. Or, one part of the answer to be “in Christ” is the visible part, the second part is the vital.

What does it mean to be “in Christ” in a sacramental or visible aspect? To speak of being “in Christ” in the most elementary way is to say one is a member of His kingdom, a part of His body, the Church. One is separated from the world by baptism and in this most basic and visible way is identified as belonging to the Triune God. We are baptized into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19, 20). We are baptized into Christ and made part of the Church for whom He died (Acts 20:28). We are joined into the household of faith, the Israel of God (Eph. 3:6).

The Westminster Confession refers to this when it says, outside of the visible, professing Church there is “no ordinary possibility of salvation” (25:2). The Bible only speaks of Christ’s sheep who belong to his fold under the care of his under-shepherds: ministers and elders. If one is not part of Israel, the visible church, they are separate from God and without hope in the world (Eph 2:12, 19).

Secondly, to be “in Christ” has a spiritual sense: the vital, living union. When the New Testament speaks of being in Christ, this is the usual meaning. It is not sufficient to only be “in Christ” in a sacramental way. Old Testament Israel fell into this error, thinking their circumcision was sufficient to be right with God. But the Bible is clear in Romans 2:28, 29 that to be right with God there must be the outward sign of union with Christ as well as the reality in the heart. Paul writes, “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”

Yes, to be “in Christ” is sacramental, but it must also be vital, alive, and it must be a true spiritual reality. To be “in Christ” in a spiritual sense is that God views His elect people as belonging to Christ as one group. Christ and His believing, truly justified people are one entity; there is an inseparable oneness (1 Cor 6:17). So the Father treats Christ and believers together, as an aggregate whole. Christ is the head of these people, they are His living body (Eph 1:22, 23; 5:30).

Whatever Christ does, we believers also experience. We are joined to Christ always. So when Christ accomplished our salvation, since we belong to Him, our salvation is accomplished. When Christ rose from the dead, we in Christ are also raised and guaranteed to be raised (Eph 2:6). As Christ is accepted by the Father, so we are. Christ is righteous; we have his righteousness. Christ fully obeyed the Law, and that obedience is considered to be our obedience. As a husband and wife become one entity and one flesh, and the public treats them legally and socially as one, in a far greater way Christ and His people, His bride, are created into one entity (Eph 5:31, 32).

The Westminster Larger Catechism Question 66 asks, “What is that union which the elect have with Christ?” Answer: “The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.”

So Christ is not ashamed to be known as our brother (Heb 2:11). We are the same family. We are told Christ is the vine and we are the branches, abiding in Him. He is our life, and without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5ff).

To understand this spiritual “union with Christ” brings great assurance of salvation. The heart sings when we realize the Father loves a believer the same way He loves Christ. Each believer is not on probation, having to prove to God they are lovable, or that they merit forgiveness. Their relationship with God is never in jeopardy, because Christ is never in jeopardy. Christ has done it all, and we are united to Christ. So there is no fear in love (1 John 4:18). Christ has done it all, and all who believe in Him are “velcroed” to Christ. They are now and forever inseparable from Christ (Romans 8:38-39). The Father treats them as He treats Christ, for we are together with Him. We are in Christ.

And so too, anyone who is truly in Christ, wants to be like Christ. If anyone loves Christ, they will do what He commands (John 14:23, 24). If one is “in the family” one will want to display a family identity; a true believer will “look and act” like he is in Christ, if indeed he really is.

For further study, here are some recommended resources:
Union with Christ and the Life of the Christian lecture series
Online notes from Richard Gaffin’s lecture on union with Christ
Robert Letham’s The Work of Christ, namely the chapter “Union with Christ,” pp. 75ff
Burk Parsons’ John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, pp. 191ff
John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied, chapter “Union with Christ,”, pp. 161ff
Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, chapter “Union with Christ,” pp. 840ff
Mike Horton’s Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ