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    The DtK Book Club: Chicken or Egg Edition

    March 4, 2014 by Brandy Vencel
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    And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel. And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law. And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; {for he was above all the people;} and when he opened it, all the people stood up: And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

    Nehemiah 8:1-6

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    Like many of the previous chapters, I found in this chapter of Desiring the Kingdom things with which I agreed…and things with which I disagreed. I am sure that all of you are shocked that I disagreed with something.


    First, I’m going to tell a story. Let’s say, hypothetically, that someone was going to create a new logo for my local Charlotte Mason reading group. We don’t actually advertise or promote ourselves, but let’s pretend we do. And let’s say the artist designing the logo knows a lot about CM. Everything about the logo — from the shape to the individual symbols — represents some aspect of CM’s philosophy.

    Now, let’s say a hundred years has passed. All of us involved in the original group are dead. And we never really told anyone where the logo came from. So some really smart member of the current generation starts to revere the logo itself. This is where our philosophy actually comes from, she says. My anthropology tells me that logos precede and actually inspire educational philosophy. We are who we are — and we think the way that we think — because of this logo that we’ve been looking at for generations, that has been handed down to us.

    And she couches it in a lot of impressive terms and sounds very authoritative, and everyone in the room starts shaking their heads saying, yes, indeed, the logo did come first.

    But, of course, that isn’t true.

    The logo is an expression of a philosophy that was spelled out in six volumes and thousands of other pages of writing, and inside of that philosophy is the profound admission that much of it is not original. In fact, it is able to “withstand the test of Plato” — meaning it reaches back more than two thousand years.

    Now here is the interesting thing.

    Smith is making the argument that worship precedes knowledge, simply because worships can and usually does precede sophisticated knowledge. But this does not logically follow.

    One reason is because worship always has an object. Even the youngest child in the Church — who may have a lot of wrong or confused doctrines in his head — is worshiping God and not a golden calf. Smith himself gives the example of the developmentally disabled woman who wants to “eat Jesus bread” and “drink Jesus juice” — because she loves Jesus. She might not comprehend the sophisticated doctrine surrounding communion, nor how it is different in the various branches of Christianity, but she does get that it’s about Jesus.

    We cannot have right worship without it being directed at the right Object, and that takes some level of prior understanding.

    But I’m not sure that this idea is enough to refute Smith, so let’s talk some more.

    Smith, in a rare instance where he appeals to Scripture, says:

    The people of God called out {ek-klesia} to be the church were worshiping long before they got all their doctrines in order or articulated the elements of a Christian worldview; and they were engaged in and developing worship practices long before what we now call our bible emerged and was solidified, so to speak. Thus we can see in the New Testament itself the remnants of early Christian hymns {Phil. 2:5-11} and doxologies {e.g, Rom. 16:25-27} that likely were taken up from worship practices in the early church. {p. 135}

    This seems to assume that there was no “people of God’ before the Church, when the Church is the fulfillment of what the people of God was preparing for for thousands of years. Sure, the earliest Church members were functioning off of unorganized Gospels and Epistles that circulated independent of each other, rather than a bound and indexed Bible as we know it, but before a generation had passed away, we know that the amazing doctrines we find in Hebrews and Romans were already written down and known. This was not a doctrinal infancy, and this was possible because of two things: thousands of years of Christian history in the form of Jewish history, plus many centuries of increasingly sophisticated thought, thanks to the Greeks, who were used by God to bring about the fullness of time and prepare the way for the Gospel in their own way.

    The Church didn’t begin in a childish vacuum.

    Smith says:

    Lived worship is the fount from which a worldview springs, rather than being the expression or application of some cognitive set of beliefs already in place. {p. 136}

    That sounds really impressive, but we can’t really get away from the fact that the Church is the people who believe in Jesus. The early Church met separately from other people for a reason — because they believed certain things that others did not. I’m not saying that all early believers had a sophisticated theology {though the argument could certainly be made that some of them did}, but rather that there really was a belief — and not a mere belief, but a faith that encompassed the intellect as well as the heart — that preceded practice.

    Let’s take an example from Scripture:

    Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?”

    He answered and said, “Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?”

    And Jesus said unto him, “Thou hast both seen Him, and it is He that talketh with thee.”

    And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.

    Here, we see that belief — some level of understanding — precedes worship.

    Or, let us consider I Corinthians 14. I’m not going to paste it here; it’d be too lengthy. But here we have Paul laying out practices for worship services based upon even practical matters, such as if one who does not believe comes in, what will he think if you worship in this way? In the context, he’s talking about speaking in tongues. So, regardless of your thoughts on speaking in tongues in today’s world, we can still see that the practices of the early Church were at least in part governed by men who were thoughtfully considering how a worship service should best be run.

    Or, let us ask ourselves why we take communion? We do not do this in a vacuum. We do this because we were commanded to do so, and it’s purpose is not to develop a worldview, but to remember something that happened.

    I am not saying that I do not think practices are forming. They are. And the practices of my church are precious to me. I have already explained that I love communion. But I feel like Smith is totally falling off the other side of the horse.

    Practices ought to be thoughtfully considered. Isn’t that what we’ve been talking about in relation to our homes? We say we believe certain things — do our practices agree? And, if not, how do we change them? When we begin to make new habits, is this not born of conviction?

    I do not see Scriptural evidence that the early Church developed practices in the way that Smith claims, and he does not give any real evidence to support himself.

    One last thought: Smith describes a very moving Tenebrae service. I have been to a service like that. I would love to attend another. It is very moving. But even services like that come from thought. Someone — or a group of someones — was trying to communicate something using symbols. We are reaping the benefit of that when we inherit these great traditions. Let us not empty them of all meaning by acting like they happened by accident, or failing to pass on their significance — in words — to the next generation.

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