Why the Festivals of the Lord?

The common view is that the Tabernacle/Temple system used to function but now has passed away. The reality is that the Tabernacle system was always a shadow of the real that is in heaven. The functions of the Mosaic system always taught us about the universal reality of who God is and what He is doing across history, and in shadow-form displayed for us what occurs in heaven (the high priestly function of Christ).

In similar fashion, the feasts of the Lord from Leviticus 23 teach and remind us of the historic, present, and future events which comprise what we might call redemptive history. Their didactic, formative, enlightening, celebratory, and anticipatory function has no more passed away than has God’s intent to save the elect. These festivals predict, enflesh, describe, and memorialize the redemptive acts of God in history. How could we possibly ignore them?

Too often these festivals are pitted against Christmas and Easter, as if one must pick between the two sets of observances. Horrors. If you, as I, can’t imagine ignoring the Incarnation or the Resurrection, why would you ignore the Atonement, the Ingathering, or the Wedding Feast of the Lamb?

One of the graces of serving a timeless God is that what He determined in the beginning is as certainly accomplished as what we have already witnessed. Whether we celebrate those acts of God that have already occurred because they make us who we are, or we anticipate those acts of God that comprise our hope, we have been given the great gift of holy days to memorialize the saving purpose of God in history: then backwards and then forwards, as now.

If anyone—before or after Christ’s first advent—looked to the keeping of the festivals as an aspect of justification they will stand condemned at the judgement seat. The same thing was true and remains true of the sacrifices. They functioned temporally to make physical access to the earthly Tabernacle permissible, but have never and will never take away sin (Hebrews 10:4).

Just as being an American is in no way dependent upon celebrating July 4th, but no American can imagine foregoing the memorial of our nation’s birthday, the festivals of the Lord have nothing to do with making us God’s people, but everything to do with the lived experience of being God’s people.

Some History of Anglicanism

from the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer, 2019

Christianity—the fullness of the good news about Jesus Christ—came very early to what would eventually be called Anglia (England) through the witness of soldiers, sailors, merchants, and missionaries. Legend holds that the biblical tomb-giver, Joseph of Arimathea, was among the first of those scattered evangelists.

The early Christian mission in the British Isles was an encounter with pagan tribes and societies. Converts banded together, and in this context communities of common prayer, learning, and Christ-like service emerged, living under agreed rules. Thus “monasteries” became centers of the evangelization of this remote region of the Roman world, and ever more so as the empire disintegrated. Early heroes and heroines leading such communities bore names that are still remembered and celebrated, names like Patrick, Brigid, David, Columba, Cuthbert, and Hilda. Haphazardly, and without a centralized hierarchy or authority, what emerged in Britain, by God’s grace, was a Church that saw herself, in each of her local manifestations, as part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church: culturally attuned and missionary adaptive, but ever committed to and always propagating “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).

Reform came in various waves, based more in the Roman systems of Diocese and parish. At the end of the sixth century, Augustine, a Benedictine monk and first Archbishop of Canterbury, was sent out from Rome by Pope Gregory the Grea with instructions that encouraged preservation of local customers when they did not conflict with universal practice. Dunstant, 25th Archbishop of Canterbury, great reformer of common worship, and Anselm, 36th Archbishop, early scholastic theologian, were among notable monastic successors of this far more hierarchical Roman mission. Closer connection to the continent and distance from the Patristic era also meant that from the seventh century onward, British faith and order were increasingly shaped by efforts to create a universal western patriarchate at Rome. The Norman Conquest of the 11th century also played a role in diminishing the distinguishing peculiarities of Ecclesia Anglicana. Liturgy also became increasingly complicated and clericalized.

All across Europe, the sixteenth century was marked by reform of the received tradition. So great was this period of reevaluation, especially concerning the primacy of the Holy Scriptures, that the whole era is still known to us as the Reformation.

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, 69th Archbishop of Canterbury, who was martyred at Oxford in 1556, led the English phase of this reform of Church life and Church worship. Undoubtedly Cranmer’s most enduring achievement was his replacement of the numerous books of the Latin liturgy with a carefully compiled Book of Common Prayer. This was a Prayer Book in the vernacular, one which brilliantly maintained the traditional patterns of worship, yet which sought to purge away from worship all that was “contrary to Holy Scripture or to the ordering of the Primitive Church.” The Book of Common Prayer, from the first edition of 1549, became the hallmark of a Christian way of worship and believing that was both catholic and reformed, continuous yet always renewing. According to this pattern, communities of prayers—congregations and families rather than the monasteries of the earliest centuries—would be the centers of formation and of Christ-like service to the world.

For a century, the Church of England matured and broadened as a tradition separated from the Church of Rome. Its pastoral, musical, and ascetical life flourished: Jeremy Tayler, Lancelot Andrewes, Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, and George Herbert are but a few of the names associated with this flowering. Also begun were three centuries of colonial expansion that exported the Book of Common Prayer to countless cultures and people-groups the world over.

The English Civil War of the seventeenth century drove the Church of England and her liturgy underground. Nevertheless, with the Restoration of the Monarchy, the Book of Common Prayer, authorized by Parliament and Church in 1662, became Anglicanism’s sine qua non. Great Awakenings and the Methodist movement of the 18th century, as well as adaptations necessary for the first Anglicans independent of the British Crown, challenged and re-shaped Prayer Book worship, as would the East African revival, charismatic renewal, and the dissolution of Empire in the 20th century. Similarly, the evangelical and anglo-catholic movements of the 19th century profoundly affected Anglican self-understanding and worship in different, often seemingly contradictory, ways; yet the Book of Common Prayer (1662) was common to every period of this development. For nearly five centuries, Cranmer’s Prayer Book idea had endured to shape what emerged as a global Anglican Church that is missional and adaptive as in its earliest centuries; authoritatively Scriptural and creedal as in its greatest season of reform; an evangelical, catholic, and charismatic in its apology and its worship as now globally manifest.

Theology Like Jazz?

Theology is first the activity of thinking and talking about God,[1] and second the applicable product of that activity. We might say, then, that theology is musing about God that enables us to ascertain how He wants us to live in the time and place where we dwell. But this is somewhat puzzling because there is a vast disparity among communities of thoughtful believers in terms of how they walk out their understanding of God’s character.

Perhaps it would be helpful to note that there are multiple faithful communities of Christian understanding and practice who prioritize adherence to biblical instruction, while emphasizing differing aspects of scripture. All of these communities might be described as “faithful,” even though all are also to some degree “faithless,” again in a variety of ways. Recognizing that this reality has persisted across history, I propose that the Bible may serve faith and mission best when it generates a dialogue among faithful readers from varying perspectives.

What if interpretation were understood to function in light of relational fact: all who call upon Jesus as Savior/Messiah share a single identity and primary purpose, but reflect a different utility within the over-arching Body of Christ?[2] Thus conceived, interpretation would provoke a lively interchange among interpreters who speak from the particularities of their unique gifts and experiences, and we might begin to celebrate the contribution of each distinct community. None of whom might be said to faithfully reflect the infinite image of God on their own, but all of whom may highlight a particular facet of His image, which the world is certain to be in desperate need of observing and experiencing.

Old Testament scholar, Daniel Hawk, writes:

As in the musical work, so in interpretation. Strongly held convictions may be fervently expressed, not as a means of bending other voices to a single, agreed-upon melody, but rather as an expression of distinct voices in a complex conversation that becomes greater than the sum of its parts….

Christian interpretation, in other words, is both determined and improvisational, not unlike jazz. Jazz integrates diverse melodies into a holistic musical experience that values the voice of each musician as a necessary component of the unified musical enterprise. Jazz requires that musicians listen carefully to the other musicians in the ensemble and follow the flow of the musical conversation. When this is done well, the result is a unified musical work, which nevertheless preserves the distinct voices in the ensemble….[3]

Undoubtedly, this way of walking might be (and has been) abused and taken too far. However, it seems to me that this practice, if held in conjunction with the foundational conviction that the Word of God expressed in all of Scripture functions as the primary expression of God’s ultimate authority, continuing to instruct the redeemed of every generation, will yield abundant fruit in the lives of God’s people. After all, the best jazz musicians are those who know the laws of music so intimately they are enabled to bend them in a harmonious and melodic manner, consistent with the spirit of music, and in unified relationship with the efforts of the gathered community of musicians.

While the Bible points to God’s ideals, it also describes Christ-like accommodations to sinful brokenness.[4] And, indeed, as Elmer Martens has reminded us,[5] Christ empowered the Christian community to “bind” or “loose” (Matt. 18:15-20), which means that any given Christian community may be more restrictive or more permissive than the exacting expression of Scripture itself. Given that the Holy Spirit has been given to the entire body of Christ, not all community decisions will be universally adopted by all other communities of faith.[6] May we be a people shaped by God’s Word, and committed to relational exegesis and application in concert with other communities of God’s people across both history and geography.

As we forge colonies of heaven in the midst of the surrounding cultures of despair, may God’s word guide us in the shaping of a biblical culture for our time and place. May the watching world say, “What kind of god is this, who gives these people in our midst such wisdom and joy?”[7] And may they discover that it is not a god, but the God who inhabits us and is our Wisdom.


[1] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), pp. xi-xii.

[2] 1 Corinthians 12

[3] L. Daniel Hawk, The Violence of the Biblical God: Canonical Narrative and Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2019), 201-203.

[4] Exodus. 21:1-6; Deuteronomy 15:11-18; Mark 14:7

[5] Elmer A. Martens, “Moving from Scripture to Doctrine,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 15.1 (2005): 77–103.

[6] this is one reason why reason must precede tradition in the interpretational hierarchy of scripture, reason, and tradition

[7] Cf., Deuteronomy 4:5-8

The Three-Legged Stool

Anglicanism was given a profound gift in the reflections of Richard Hooker (d. 1600), who articulated a threefold cord that must underlie all informed reflection on the Christian faith: Scripture, Reason, and Tradition. Finding here a hierarchical triumvirate of authority, the Anglican Way has mostly avoided identifying itself with specific theological systems and focused instead on grounding “its judgements in the authority of Scripture and reason illumined by tradition.” [1]

In so doing, the Anglican Way has preserved the primacy of Scripture as the word of God—not man—and of the necessity of semper reformanda in subjecting tradition to evaluation by Scripture-ruled reason. While it is not difficult to find broad agreement on the inclusion of all three legs of the so-called “three-legged stool,” ever since the Oxford Movement there has been a perpetual challenge to the requisite hierarchical ordo of these three authorities, despite the fact that Hooker himself was crystal clear:

“What Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience is due; the next whereunto, is what any man can necessarily conclude by force of Reason; after these, the voice of the Church succeedeth.”

– Richard Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book V, 8.2 (London, 1597)

I’ll continue to stand with Hooker on this topic, although not primarily because he said it, but because it is congruent with reason so to hold. It is, however, significant that a voice of tradition backs up the exercise of reason, as it must always do or the tradition is to be rejected.

“[continuing from the above quote]… That which the Church by her ecclesiastical authority shall probably think and define to be true or good, must in congruity of reason overrule all other inferior judgments whatsoever.” [2]

Ultimately, I hold that reason must precede tradition in the hierarchy because of the impossibility of the contrary. The expression of the judgement of tradition is itself an exercise of reason in the application of Scripture’s authoritative voice to a specific time and place.

No voice of tradition may exert an authority prior to reason or it becomes Scripture, which alone expresses the reason of God rather than of man, and so speaks in a universal and timeless manner; to be accepted as in accordance with faith and reason, but not established by faith or human reason: the reason of God being transcendent, the reason of man being derivative. To reason otherwise is 1) to be irrational, 2) to accept the place of the Magisterium, and 3) to obliterate the possibility of the validity and necessity of the Reformation. I think you can see, therefore, why I’ll be rather inflexible on this point.

“Primary authority, that is to say, belongs to Scripture as ‘God’s Word written’; but whatever may be deduced from Scripture by the proper use of reason carries a derivative authority with it. As for ‘the voice of the Church’, which is certainly one form of tradition, that was placed by Hooker on the third level of authority, but it carries real authority when it is agreeable to Scripture and not contrary to reason.” [3]


[1] Sykes, Stephen, John E. Booty, and Jonathan Knight. The Study of Anglicanism. London: SPCK/Fortress Press, 1998. p. 11.

[2] Richard Hooker, The Works of That Learned and Judicious Divine, Mr. Richard Hooker, ed. John Keble, vol. 2, book 5, 8.2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1874), 34.

[3] F. F. Bruce, “Scripture in Relation to Tradition and Reason,” in Scripture, Tradition, and Reason: A Study in the Criteria of Christian Doctrine : Essays in Honour of Richard P.C. Hanson, ed. Richard Bauckham and Benjamin Drewery (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998), 35–36.

Theology

Theology is first the activity of thinking and speaking about God (theologizing), and second the product of that activity…. As an activity, theology is a cat’s cradle of interrelated though distinct disciplines: elucidating texts (exegesis), synthesizing what they say on the things they deal with (biblical theology), seeing how the faith was stated in the past (historical theology), formulating it for today (systematic theology), finding its implications for conduct (ethics), commending and defending it as truth and wisdom (apologetics), defining the Christian task in the world (missiology), stockpiling resources for life in Christ (spirituality) and corporate worship (liturgy), and exploring ministry (practical theology).

J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), xi–xii.

As usual, Packer is so on point and so clear, but there may be slight room for improvement here. I can accept many of these helpful definitions as written, but a few I would seek to improve slightly.

Here’s my take:

  • Theology: thinking and speaking about God
  • Exegesis: elucidating texts
  • Biblical theology: synthesizing what the Bible says about theology on its own terms, by noting its own order, identifying its own center, and distilling its own story
  • Historical theology: seeing how the faith was stated in the past
  • Systematic theology: formulating and organizing the faith for today
  • Ethics: finding the Bible’s implications for conduct
  • Apologetics: commending and defending the Bible as truth and wisdom
  • Missiology: defining the Christian task in the world
  • Spirituality: stockpiling resources for life in Christ
  • Liturgy: articulating and arranging the Bible for corporate worship
  • Practical theology: exploring ministry as a way of life

An RV Trip through Oregon

Coyote Rock MarinaHaving arrived at our rest, I sat and watched as smoke and mist curled up and past the multi-hued and verdant trees who stood guard over the deep green river.  Evergreens and birches interspersed, rose rank after rank toward the bald eagle who soared away from the mouth of the estuary and up river toward Coyote Rock.

Vespers this night was evensong with a winged choir, all wind instruments and no strings, with God showing up and showing off. An otter popped up his head in curiosity, swimming toward us till I walked closer, my hulking figure appearing behind the willowy girls.

SeagullOnPierShall I describe the smells too? No, my eyes are still preoccupied with white egrets and grey herons, with ducks whose wings whisked the placid river’s surface, and a seagull on the pier patiently waiting to see what we might leave from dinner.

This was just our destination. We left Nampa yesterday, and stayed in Burns last night where we saw crows harass a great horned owl off his perch above our RV, and toured one of three tipis with the friendly proprietor.

On the way toward Bend we saw a coyote wading in the Malheur River, pheasants approaching the road, a mohawked roadrunner, and antelope in bands of three and four, running as they played.Antelope

We stopped at a viewpoint before the landscape changed from red to green where my son caught a lizard with a brilliant azure blue under its neck and striping his belly. Six steps from the road the land fell away into a rocky gorge with gnarled trees clinging desperately to crumbling lava. My daughter commented it could have been the Grand Canyon she’s not yet seen, but I was glad for her wonder and didn’t correct her.

There’s no end of surprises on the road. We stopped to snap photos in front of a shoe-laden tree in the middle of nowhere, wondering who planned a trip to ditch their aging shoes, but glad for their spontaneity, which graced the rugged terrain to travelers’ delight. ShoeTree

The road goes ever on, sun shining in my eyes yesterday afternoon and lighting the tips of a few spindly pines ahead of me this morning as they stretched skyward beyond their brothers blanketing the Western Cascades The 2 Sisters Oregonas we left Sisters, OR in our wake. Now instead of gazing upon vast vistas our eyes peered through a tunnel of trees with beams of sunshine winking through as we whipped past. 

Soon rain misted our windshield as we wound down from 4,800 feet toward Salem. Moss blanketed the trees like green snow and some sort of brilliant yellow lilies pierced through a sea of grass as we pushed toward Tillamook county.

I’m lying in bed as I write, watching my wife blow dry her hair; thankful for the convenience of power and water amid the wild beauty around us. As she wraps up the cord, I can hear the burbling of the rivulet breaking out of the steeply angled woods across the river.

Morning Prayer on Sunday enjoyed the same choir, with choristers rarely seen except when they flitted from tree to tree. If you’ve ever been in a sanctuary with the choir above and behind you, it was kind of like that. You don’t see the choir you just experience them; one can easily be transported into the heavenly realm.

We left the Oregon Coast and headed toward McMinnville, OR where so many of my ancestors lived. There’s a park here on land donated by my Uncle Tuck. It’s been a weekend of worship and my heart is full as we head home on I-84 along the Columbia River.

Waterfall  3 Teepees White Egret  LaGrange OR lizard

This entire experience was made possible by Rent For Fun RV, and we recommend them to you as honest, friendly, reliable, and generous people. Hop on over to their site and see if you can rent an RV for your next memory creating event!

I Am Valued – a poem

Scorned and disdained,
I am chosen by the King.

Impotent and insolent,
I am humbled by the Potentate.

Dust-born and sin-soiled,
I am envisaged by the Seer.

Bedraggled and disheveled,
I am a canvas for the Artist.

Forlorn and war-torn,
I am upheld by the Comforter.

Beset and bedeviled,
I am rescued by Heaven.

Ragtag and weary,
I am sustained by the Spirit.

Pummeled and bruised,
I am sheltered by the Rock.

Confused and uncertain,
I am wielded by the Healer.

Seen by the Savior,
I find myself in His eyes,
And discover I am valued.

Another Way to Read Scripture

Recommendation: re-read Romans 7-8 out loud.

What I’m suggesting is not a replacement for studying the Scriptures, nor for any other method of reading, but an alternative I’m suggesting can bear fruit from time to time.

On this occasion, read not with an eye to understanding what on earth Paul is trying to say in Ch 7, but with an eye to what happens to Paul as he contemplates God in the process of explaining to the believers in Rome.

By the time Paul gets to the end of Ch 8 he is enraptured by the character of God: caught up in delight at the recognition of the profundity of Who God is and what He does.

By the time he gets to 8:31 the quill of his amanuensis has begun to sing, the scratches on parchment become rhythmic, and in my mind’s eye, by the end of the chapter Paul is standing, arms trembling, voice crescendoing, and then he collapses to his knees as his spirit and the Spirit commune in adoration, before he has calmed and can resume penning what would become known as chapter 9.

All true theology is doxological.

Midlife Reflection of a Mature Christian

When unchallenged and unconfronted by people who know us, one inevitably becomes uncorrected and imbalanced, and lacunae develop in one’s introspection. One’s mind becomes pre-programmed to avoid these mostly unexamined and consequently sensitive areas, and it permits oneself to sally forward “assured” of our own righteousness.

Why “sensitive”? Because to examine these lacunae forces one to acknowledge a tension between the comfort our introspection has provided and the reality of our own need for repentance and forgiveness: for reformation.

As humans we seek to live a managed life, but God seems to insist that we live a formational life, and He will orchestrate circumstances to ensure that no blind spot remains unchallenged. The solution is not to exert greater control, but to confess, repent, receive forgiveness, and embrace new learning with humility and gratitude.

“What the heart desires, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.”

The secret to avoiding this (practically speaking) is a commitment to community: to knowing and being known. This is a determined investment in the process of becoming vulnerable to being known well and the responsibility of knowing others well. The personal character quality required is humility.

Sacrifice as Portal

Where did life begin? In Eden. In Eden were all the necessities of life: nourishment, shelter, communion, knowledge, purpose, and identity.

What is a sacrifice? The separation of body from life by a blade, and consumption of that body by fire.

What did God put at the entry to Eden? An angel with a fiery sword.

What are we to conclude? Access to life is made via sacrifice, and the life you want is a result of being separated from your flesh, and letting former things be consumed that you might find new life, no longer in the flesh, but in God.

I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1

The significance of an animal offering, the reason why the aroma of the animal turned into rising smoke becalms God’s “burning nostrils” (the Hebraic term for God being angry) is that it represents a complete offering to God, nothing is reserved, all is given, fulfillment is realized in giving up one’s tenuous claim to physical life and finding new purpose in being made living spirit-rising smoke/cloud. We think of it as violence, God views it as total dedication, and in receiving that offering He imbues the animal with spirit (transforms it into smoke, and receives it into Himself, whose glory is always seen on earth as fire or smoke, pillar or cloud).

Please consider the previous paragraph provisional. I’m exploring something here; I know I’m on to something, but I wouldn’t want to be pinned down to defending it as presently expressed.

A Perspective on Grief

In Christ, all death brings about new life.

“You started life in the cozy comfort of your mother’s womb, but then you got squeezed out, screaming. You died to the womb to come alive in the world. Then you had your first day of school, your first date, your wedding, your first child, your first grandchild, the death of your mother and father. Each of these crisis moments is a small death that shatters the world as you know it. If life carries on at all, it carries on with a new, unknown horizon. No wonder life can be terrifying. You’re constantly dying to this to come alive to that.”

Sacrifice is an act of separation, of division. The animal is divided into parts, some of which are laid on the altar, some of which are thrown away, in some cases some of which are eaten and some of which are given to God.

Adam is put into a comatose state, as if he died, and his ribs are separated. When he rises again, God has brought about new life from his side.

Christ is hung on the cross and his ribs are separated by a spearhead, and from his side flows blood and water, which gives rise to new life.

Grain yearns to reach fulfillment by virtue of being separated from its husk, ground and baked, that it might rise to new life as bread.

“Sacrifice is a pathway, a movement through death to new life. In sacrifice, we die to one state so we can rise in an exalted state.”

Are you grieving, Christian? What is dying or to what are you dying? And what is being given new life or to what new life are you rising?

This meditation was inspired by a couple sections of Theopolitan Liturgy by Peter Leithart (including pages 51 – 55). The quotes are from those pages and the ideas are restatements of, or were provoked by, ideas from the book, applied to the concept of grieving.