Wednesday, November 25, 2009

INCENSE: A Word from Dearmer

When I first read the Introduction to Dearmer's Parson's Handbook, I was very strongly struck by the following passage. It seemed to me that those who claimed to be Bible Christians should immediately be asked about their use of incense in church services. When they admit, as they will have to do, that it is not used among them, then one is free to ask if they have actually read and understood the Bible. Personally I have always felt that those who were uncomfortable about the use of incense probably didn't really believe there was a God or that Jesus was divine. There is something about waving a censor at an altar that makes you aware that you couldn't or wouldn't do it if you didn't believe in God. It would be just too embarassing.

The use of incense is a good test as to the continuance of ceremonial under the New Covenant; because it is now regarded, even by some Bishops, as a mark of extreme ritualism. Its use is mentioned in the last prophetic book of the Old Testament[4] as [9] one of the signs of the New Covenant. The birth of the Fore-runner was announced to his father when ‘his lot was to burn incense,’[5] a singularly inopportune moment from the Puritan point of view. One of the three significant gifts offered to our Lord at His birth was incense.[6] In the Revelation an account is given of the ideal worship of the redeemed, by one who, more than any other man, had opportunities of knowing our Lord’s mind upon the subject. Now the worship he describes is again ritualistic; and the use of no less than twenty-eight ‘bowls’ of incense is mentioned.[7] It is mentioned again three chapters further on[8] in a manner that is significant; for it is then used ceremonially at the altar. The angel stands ‘at (or over) the altar, having a golden censer,’ he is given ‘much incense,’ to ‘add it unto the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar.’ ‘And the smoke of the incense, with (or for) the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand.’ The Sarum Missal itself hardly gives a more complete description of the ceremonial use of incense.

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