The Night of Weeping

by Travis Prinzi on May 2, 2008

My favorite hymn is “The Church’s One Foundation.” If it came up for a vote, I’d vote to add it to biblical canon. I’m almost serious.

There’s one verse in that hymn that came to memory tonight as I sat with fellow believers and talked about the church, her flaws, her failures, and her struggles:

Though with a scornful wonder, men see her sore oppressed
By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed
Yet saints, their watch are keeping, their cry goes up “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song!

There’s a lot of wisdom in those lines. Samuel J. Stone chose his words carefully; he knew the church. “Scornful wonder” – how many times do we lament the church’s failures?

  • “People accuse us of being hypocrites, so we need to stop to prove to them Jesus is real.”
  • “What do we do when people point to all the church’s failures?”
  • “I know someone who might consider believing in Jesus if it weren’t for the fact that the church is so messed up.

We respond very strongly to the scorn of the world. But do you notice what Stone has them scorning us for? Division. Heresies. In other words, inner conflict in the church. Stone takes it as a given that the church will be in conflict, not living up to what she has been called to be.

It’s shocking. It’s scandalous. But it’s true.

You’ll notice that Stone’s remedy for this is not, “Get better, do better, live better.” Those are exhortations we need to hear and heed. But Stone sees the only final hope as “the morn of song.” In other words, Christ’s return.

Quite plainly, Stone calls the New Covenant age “The Night of Weeping.” Tolkien called history “the long defeat,” in which we get occasional glimpses of the ultimate euchastrophe, the “sudden joyous turn” in the story which is the return of Jesus. All the time the Church is on earth doing her work imperfectly, messing stuff up but by the grace of God spreading the gospel as she stumbles along – this is the night of weeping.

This wisdom flies in the face of denominational hubris, which believes that if all the other believers would just sign on to our confession, the church would finally work as it should. It’s sadly ironic that Paul’s words about the church – that she is “the pillar of truth” – has been used to support claims to denominational and confessional superiority. The church is the “pillar of truth,” and by the church of course we mean our church, our magisterium, systematic theologians, confessions, whatever. But if you read how Paul actually defines the “truth” for which the church is supposed to be a “pillar,” you might be shocked to find that he’s not quoting the Pope, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, or Piper:

1 Timothy 3:16 Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith:

Christ was revealed in a human body
and vindicated by the Spirit.
He was seen by angels
and announced to the nations.
He was believed in throughout the world
and taken to heaven in glory.

It’s a “great mystery;” and it’s entirely about Christ. All the elders and deacons Paul writes about in the preceding verses are supposed to be upholding this confession. Christ: incarnation, death, resurrection, witness, gospel proclamation, faith, ascension and kingship. Surprise! We all believe this. Calvinists, Arminians, Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics. We all uphold that confession of Christ; and when we add to Christ, making other things “absolutely necessary” in order to either be saved or to get the church functioning as it should, we’ve gone beyond Paul; and we’re murdering the phrase, “pillar of truth” if we think that quoting it justifies our exclusion of anyone who doesn’t jive with the finer points of our confessional documents. It really is all about Jesus.

Someone once told me that the Jesus who didn’t accomplish the Calvinist “limited atonement” is a “different Jesus.” That’s nowhere to be found in this confession.

This is the Night of Weeping. It’s not a competition. It’s not a battle over who’s got the real church. We can only really discuss those matters when we quit excommunicating each other over them. The real church, the real pillar of truth, is the one that confesses Christ as Paul did. If we don’t weep together during this prolonged Night of Weeping – and weep over our own divisions and schisms and sins against one another – and vow to love one another and uphold the confession of Christ together despite our inability to come to agreement on so many theological questions; if we keep to our own sidelines, pretending we’ve nothing to weep over except the other church’s seeming inability to see how right we are about this or that point of doctrine; if we can’t love one another until everyone who’s “wrong” has repented and signed our confessional document, then the weeping will be greater than it need be.

Jesus is who we confess; He is the truth. Jesus is what holds us together despite our disagreements during the Night of Weeping. Jesus is the one who will return to show us how foolish all of our tightly-reasoned systems of theology were…but when he shows us how foolish we were, graciously and mercifully, there will be little time to weep over it, for the “Morn of Song” will have dawned.

Note: This is probably the last thing of any great length I’ll write here until the end of May. The manuscript for my book on Harry Potter is due May 25, so I need to focus exclusively on that. At the end of May, I’ll most likely be changing names/domain names. It may seem silly, but I’ve hated “restless reformer” for some time, and now that “Young, Restless, Reformed” is getting applied to all the obnoxious cage-stage Calvinists, my name has been hijacked, and there’s no rescuing it.

There will still be consistent activity at The Hog’s Head, my Harry Potter site. 

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internetmonk.com » Blog Archive » Riffs: 05:03:08: The Night of Weeping and A Jesus Shaped Spirituality
May 3, 2008 at 2:20 pm

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 grub May 4, 2008 at 3:12 pm

lol…I was just going to link this from the BHT…Michael beat me to it…Excellent stuff Travis…thanks for putting it down on paper…

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2 Patrick Kyle May 5, 2008 at 12:13 am

Travis,

I’ve lurked here occasionally, and participate regularly over on IMonk’s blog. Lately there has been agreat deal of discussion about Jesus shaped spirituality, and while initially I find much to agree with, something has bothered me about it that I couldn’t put my finger on until your post clarified it.

You said “It’s a “great mystery;” and it’s entirely about Christ. All the elders and deacons Paul writes about in the preceding verses are supposed to be upholding this confession. Christ: incarnation, death, resurrection, witness, gospel proclamation, faith, ascension and kingship. Surprise! We all believe this. Calvinists, Arminians, Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics. We all uphold that confession of Christ; and when we add to Christ, making other things “absolutely necessary” in order to either be saved or to get the church functioning as it should, we’ve gone beyond Paul; and we’re murdering the phrase, “pillar of truth” if we think that quoting it justifies our exclusion of anyone who doesn’t jive with the finer points of our confessional documents. It really is all about Jesus.”

What you are doing is to subtly redefine the essentials of the faith, that we all can supposedly agree upon, to exclude some very central things. While we all agree on “Christ: incarnation, death, resurrection, witness, gospel proclamation, faith, ascension and kingship,” the vast majority of believers, now and historically have held the sacraments to be a central and integral part of the faith. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are commanded by Christ and carry with them His promise of life, salvation and forgiveness. Baptism is the Christ ordained entry point into His Kingdom and the indelible mark upon all those who are His. The Lord’s Supper is the fellowship of His Body and Blood and what joins the members of His Body together. The Scriptures say we are one body because we partake of one loaf. The Sacraments are intricately involved in who Jesus is and His work in us. These aren’t things “we add to Christ, making other things “absolutely necessary” in order to either be saved or to get the church functioning as it should, ” these are central to being a Christian for the vast majority of believers since Christ instituted them.
To say that a church is being divisive because they endeavor to be responsible with their Communion practice, or they expect their members to have a certain amount of instruction in the Sacraments before they allow participation, is wrong. While I don’t agree with strictly closed communion, the fact is that faithful pastors since the apostles have practiced it,in every tradition, and defend it as pastorally responsible. Open Communion to anyone who presents themselves at the altar is a fairly recent trend and if looked at from a historical point of view could be seen as a cause of division. It is the new innovation and departs from how believers have interpreted the Scripture for two millenia. This has caused some deep soul searching on my part. I still am wrestling with it.
However, I don’t mean to drag this comment thread into a debate on the LS or closed communion. (And I will engage in no debate on that subject.) My point is that your definition of the “essentials” fails to grasp some very important points and attempts to put responsibility for schisms in the Church on those who would maintain a strong attachment to the Sacraments. I think this is wrong and deserves further thought on your part.

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3 Travis Prinzi May 5, 2008 at 8:19 am

Patrick, thanks for your comments. I think had you been following this blog for years (not that I’d expect you to, of course!) and read the stuff I’ve written on the sacraments, you’d know I don’t define the essentials as simply, “I love Jesus.” Because I believe Christ himself is offered in the sacraments, sacramentology is an essential part of Christology.

So, no, I’m not redefining essentials to exclude the sacraments.

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4 Jonathan May 5, 2008 at 11:27 pm

Changing domain names?

I’ll clear my calendar …

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5 Travis Prinzi May 6, 2008 at 12:32 am

Ha! Well, after all that work last time, it turned out to be fairly easy, didn’t it? Copy and paste everything into the new directory, and then point RR at the new name.

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