Traditionalists and Willow Creekers: Really the Same Thing

Zrim gets it. The regulative principle (=the second commandment + sola scriptura) is neither “progressive” nor “conservative” but radical.

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33 comments

  1. I couldn’t help but remember that “radical” comes from “radix”, root. Sadly, that principle seems to have been misused to restore spectator religion; only the pastor prays, confesses his sins, etc. Secondly, even the Creeds will be excised on the basius of the regulative principle! Thankful that in the URC, that is not the case.

    At the same time, to be “traditional” without considering what Scripture commands is really the same as revivalism, also. This post, though short required a second look.

  2. The assumption RP folks seem to have is that artistic expressions (music, architecture, etc.) are ultimately just “sense titillators.” My contention is that they’re a lot more. They communicate. They have meaning. But their meaning can’t necessarily be translated into words. If it could, it would make the artistic expressions themselves superfluous. (Does anyone really think that Bach is superfluous?)
    And insofar as they communicate, they’re analogous to languages. Or. more precisely, verbal statements. Which brings us to the point. Just as there’s no one verbal language that’s universal, there’s no one musical language that’s universal. The closest you can get to a universal musical language is folk music. But even that leaves you a pretty long ways away: an American folk tune (like the tune to Amazing Grace) doesn’t sound a whole lot like an African folk tune.
    We’re cultural creatures. We can’t escape culture. And God doesn’t want us to -not even in worship.

    • John,

      The RPW isn’t asking us to deny our humanity, it is binding us against relating to God in ways our humanity naturally (which is to say wrongly) wants to.

      So, Scott, RRPW and R2K?

  3. Zrim,

    Well, I don’t think the two-kingdom’s (or two spheres) analysis is “radical,” but yes. The same folk who don’t get the regulative principle tend not to get the 2 kingdoms/spheres.

  4. Zrim-

    >The RPW isn’t asking us to deny our humanity, it is binding us against relating to God in ways our humanity naturally (which is to say wrongly) wants to.

    But singing is something which everybody (or almost everybody) “naturally” wants to do. And, as the RP points out, God has commanded it. So is there necessarily a tension here?

    >the reality of our indwelling sin is precisely why we should be RPW-ish about worship, seeking to transcend all cultural considerations as much as is possible in this present evil age.

    I’m no Wesleyan perfectionist -I agree with you about our indwelling sin. But I don’t see the connection between that and “transcending cultural considerations”. If you sing a melody in worship, or design a building to be used for worship, the melody and the building will represent (respectively) musical and architectural styles. Those styles are manifestations of culture. They’re going to sound and look different in Western culture than in, say. African culture. I don’t see why that should be a negative thing.

  5. Zrim-

    One of my problems with the RP is that it tends to lead to exclusive Psalmody. Calvin is in big trouble here. The early Christians were (mostly) Jews. Jews chanted, i.e., sang, their prayers in worship. The only difference was that these particular Jews (unlike their forbears) sang their prayers to Yeshua -Jesus Christ.
    What is a sung prayer to Jesus Christ? A Christian hymn!
    Can’t believe that Calvin didn’t see that.
    (Same applies to the whole Puritan tradition.)

  6. John,

    When I say “cultural considerations” I think “will worship.” The former is a euphemism for the latter. But the question for you is, If indwelling sin factors into questions of worship (the way you seem to suggest) then that must mean worship can be done wrong. So what does wrong worship look like, when have we imported what we think is good and necessary (what some call our “cultural felt needs”) to the point that worship has become corrupted? And as soon as you start pointing out to me what will worship looks like, my next question is my are you dinging me for doing the same thing?

    True worship should look the same in 14th century Africa as it does in 2010 America. And that’s because the human heart, like God’s demands, hasn’t changed one bit ever since we were sent packing east of Eden. The ironic thing to me is that Reformed and Presbyterian worship should be the most predicable thing on earth, given its notion of the RPW. And yet it isn’t. Instead, Pentecostal worship, that which by definition should be unpredictable, is as predicable as R & P worship should be.

    Scott,

    I was being facetious with all the “R for radical” stuff. I quite agree with you—the ones who don’t get RPW don’t get 2K and seem to stick a “R” in front of both as a way to demonstrate it.

  7. Zrim,

    It really looks like you missed my point. Let me try to be clearer.

    1. Everybody likes to sing.
    2. God has commanded that we sing in worship.
    3. So, when we sing in worship, we’re a) doing something that God has commanded, and b)doing something that we like. In this instance at any rate, they’re one and the same. So why is there necessarily a tension between these two?

    >True worship should look the same in 14th century Africa as it does in 2010 America.

    But more to the point: should it sound the same? Even if the only music is unison singing of Psalms, it’s going to sound different -because African music sounds different from American music. I don’t see how one can get around this.

    • It really looks like you missed my point. Let me try to be clearer.

      1.Everybody likes to sing.
      2. God has commanded that we sing in worship.
      3. So, when we sing in worship, we’re a) doing something that God has commanded, and b) doing something that we like. In this instance at any rate, they’re one and the same. So why is there necessarily a tension between these two?

      John,

      I’m not sure about your first premise, namely that everyone likes to sing. It is quite clear, however, that God has commanded it. But even if your first premise is right, I understand the main question to really be something about obedience, not meeting the supposed human delight in singing. I think that may be part of our tangle here. You see God’s demands and human inclinations coming together quite harmoniously, as it were. Insofar as it is the principle good work of both the individual believer and corporate church, I see worship as an act of obedience

      My daughter is like me, she isn’t much for singing (sacred or secular). But I encourage her to sing in worship as much as I encourage her to heed the sermon, because worship is a work and work is about duty and duty is about obedience. I don’t quite understand how human desire has much to do with any of it.

      “True worship should look the same in 14th century Africa as it does in 2010 America.”

      But more to the point: should it sound the same? Even if the only music is unison singing of Psalms, it’s going to sound different -because African music sounds different from American music. I don’t see how one can get around this.

      My point isn’t about the finer aspects of how true worship looks. I understand your point that cultures will have some, at least, residual effect on worship. But it does seem to me that, generally speaking, if there is such a thing as faithful worship then it should be highly recognizable across time and place.

  8. There’s no reason to stop at 14th century African style and substance – my Orthodox friends will lay claim to fifth and sixth century Byzantine and perform it admirably. This simply misses the point of whether the worship we offer is pleasing to God, both personally and congregationally. Since Scripture does not demand a particular musical style (unless one accepts that monophonic chant is the only way to go, and we should be very careful indeed about assuming too much concerning the way instrumentation in David’s Tabernacle or Solomon’s Temple sounded), I wonder whether this might be looked at within the context of Christian historical development.

    Rather than accepting the dogma of felt needs and personal preference as a means to determining the music appropriate to congregational worship, especially since culture is not neutral, one may take an historical-theological view as a starting point. Theological reflection created the context not only for developments in lyric – from the Te Deum to works by John of Damascus to Bernard to Luther to Wesley – but also gave rise development in instrumental expression. Contra-Punctual arrangement developing in Europe is only one example. This means that there is more to personal preference at work in something like Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion or Mass in B major. Perhaps this is also why Korean Presbyterians are ordering large mechanical action organs for their churches and singing in so-called ‘western’ style ways . It would appear that the music which arose in Europe, embracing the themes of both eastern and western ancient Christian Faith and adding the brightness of Reformation renewal, piety, and liberty combined with instrumental developments at the same time, produced a distinctively ‘theological music’, suited especially to congregational singing and the antiphonal liturgies that are so vital to every saint’s priestly ministry.

    Beautiful liturgy then is not an attempt to be ‘hip’ – one recalls Huey Lewis and the News’ pop number ‘Its Hip to be Square’ – or even to be ‘ancient-future’. On the contrary, it is an attempt to be Reformed, receiving and retaining all that is truly catholic and orthodox, embodying the necessity of full congregational participation, viewing song not simply as praise offered to God but instruction given to one another, the word dwelling richly within us, together with the sacraments rightly administered. In this regard we can accept the transcendent quality of musical expression – whether vocal or instrumental – viewing it as a ‘language of the heart’, for even those who will not listen to a sermon can find their hearts opened to the Gospel by song (as did Augustine in Ambrose’ church in Milan). I have met numerous former non-believers who had to admit that music ‘taught’ them that there was more to life than scientific explanations of reality and directed their hearts back to God.

    This directing of the heart is at the end of the day the most crucial matter. For the Lord’s word by Isaiah (29:10) notes our greatest danger: “These people draw near to me with their lips but remove their hearts far from me”.

    I agree with the author that church growth assumptions must never be at the root of our decisions about gathered worship, and this includes what some call high church approaches. But I would disagree with any assumption that high church liturgies are just Willow Creek for those with liturgical tastes. Neither Luther nor Calvin were looking for a niche market in their Reforms of the Church’s liturgical life. In receiving and valuing their work, neither are we.

    David

    • Beautiful liturgy then is not an attempt to be ‘hip’ – one recalls Huey Lewis and the News’ pop number ‘Its Hip to be Square’ – or even to be ‘ancient-future’. On the contrary, it is an attempt to be Reformed, receiving and retaining all that is truly catholic and orthodox, embodying the necessity of full congregational participation, viewing song not simply as praise offered to God but instruction given to one another, the word dwelling richly within us, together with the sacraments rightly administered…I agree with the author that church growth assumptions must never be at the root of our decisions about gathered worship, and this includes what some call high church approaches. But I would disagree with any assumption that high church liturgies are just Willow Creek for those with liturgical tastes. Neither Luther nor Calvin were looking for a niche market in their Reforms of the Church’s liturgical life. In receiving and valuing their work, neither are we.

      But, David, just to be clear, Mast is pretty explicit that, in adopting the Willow Creek model, the point is to “be hip” to meet the felt needs of a certain class. I’m not saying that high Reformed-looking liturgy is automatically a way to meet the felt needs of a certain class (indeed, I’m an advocate of high Reformed liturgy—of course, when I say high Reformed liturgy I think something like the host’s Oceanside URC). I’m saying that when a man says that’s what he’s doing then that’s what he’s doing, and it should be questioned.

    • David,

      The point of the RPW is to protect my Christian freedom from your tastes and your Christian freedom from my tastes. This is why WCF 21 says what it does. This is why we distinguish between the substance (elements) and accidents (circumstances) of worship. The accidents can change. Language, dress, metre etc accidents. So African worship may sound/look different than N. American or European (or not! — my NKST friends in Nigeria sing more psalms than we do!).

      If we actually followed our confession and obeyed God’s Word and dispensed with the Mosaic ceremonies (we don’t kill goats any more why do we persist with other Mosaic cultic ceremonies?) then our worship would be truly more catholic, since musical instruments were not introduced until the introduction of priestcraft into the medieval church as part of the Mosaic reconstruction (and theocracy) of the church.

      Fundamentally WC and 1959-Psalter-Hymnal organ-playing, hymn-singing URCs) are no different in principle, just in practice. One imposes a low-church, happy-clappy version of Moses on the congregation and the other imposes a middle-class, middle-brow, 19th-century version of Moses on the congregation.

      Neither understands the radical nature of the Reformed Principle of Worship. They both ask the wrong question: “what may we do?” or begins with the wrong principle, “We may do whatever is not forbidden.” That’s the Lutheran principle. That’s not the Reformed principle. Our principle, confessed explicitly in our confessions and catechisms is more radical: We may do only what is commanded.

      This is why I say that those 1959 PH-singing folk who condemn WC are hypocrites because they are doing essentially the same thing. Choirs are no better than choruses. Neither has the positive sanction of God’s Word. Neither is faithful to the Word as we confess it and both are simply mirror distinct cultures (boomers v dusters). Both are equally captive to their cultures. Only the RPW frees us from Babylonian Captivity.

      • Our principle, confessed explicitly in our confessions and catechisms is more radical: We may do only what is commanded.

        All very well said not limited to just the quote.

  9. Scott,

    Help me out here a little – what aspects of the Mosaic cultus are ‘we’ reproducing today, at least as you note it? Psalm singing is very important where I am, but we also sing hymns. Is it these you oppose? The confession of the Creeds (Apostles and Nicene)? Other matters? Just wondering.

    Do you believe the Scriptures don’t sanction choirs? I would think Nehemiah rather demonstrates that choirs can and should be part of the worship offered by God’s people.

    Are you in opposed to all instrumentation in worship? Perhaps only organs?

    Many thanks.

    David

    • Hi David,

      Well, ask the English, Dutch, French, and German Reformed churches of the 16th and 17th centuries. They all agreed that instruments are part of the theocratic/ceremonial/typological epoch of redemptive history. That’s why an appeal to Nehemiah is exactly backwards, because it proves too much! What else does Nehemiah give us? How can we selectively pick out of the typological cultus (worship) the stuff we like and leave behind the stuff we find uncomfortable (e.g., sacrifices)? The instruments and choirs and organs and guitars and the rest are all covered with the typological blood of typological goats and bulls.

      That’s why an appeal to Ps 150 doesn’t work either. Ask Calvin:

      http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2009/02/28/calvin-on-instruments-stupid-imitation/

      FWIW, I deal with this in RRC.

      Here are some other posts:

      http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2009/03/03/could-instruments-be-idols-2/

      http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2008/05/11/on-elements-and-circumstances/

      Yes, I’m opposed to all instruments for the same reason I’m opposed to bringing back the typological priesthood and for the same reason I’m opposed to holy war. They belonged to the typological/Israelite economy.

      The early church (2nd century) did not use instruments partly on those grounds. They understood that the unity we have with believers under the typological administrations is spiritual. We are redeemed by the same Savior and the same grace but we’re free of the remnants of typological cultus (worship). Instruments only entered Christian worship as we (over)reacted to the gnostics et al by re-instituting the priesthood (in place of the ministry) and the theocracy and with that came the instruments.

      That’s why, by and large, the Reformed churches who gave us our confessions, who gave us the solas, didn’t give us hymnals. They gave us psalters. Why didn’t they give us hymnals? They were opposed to them in principle? On what principle? On the grounds of the RPW. They understood that we respond to God’s Word with God’s Word. We gained hymns about the time we began to lose our confession (and the solas began to be marginalized).

  10. Zrim,

    I too reject the Willowcreek approach – in fact I’ve been a very outspoken critic of it for many years for many reasons, all of which have no doubt been discussed here and elsewhere very cogently and convincingly. We agree on this. Our liturgy is not rooted in any desire to appeal to so-called felt needs, but is rather organized in response to Scriptures commands and offered to please God whatever people may or may not find appealing about it. The Lamb at the center of the throne is the author, mediator, and recipient of the worship of God’s people, and it is his pleasure we seek and not our own.

    Many thanks,

    David

  11. I don’t disagree with Zrim’s point at all, but I’d like at least point that even if we agree in principle about a “regulative principle of worship,” doesn’t it still “suffer” from being applied in a specific time and place, with necessary and subsequent questions that must be addressed that the RPW isn’t, in itself, able to answer? In other words, we might agree that Mast is not thinking clearly here, but it’s iffy as to whether the RPW, defined as it is in the WCF (and by folks like Gillespie), is the answer to this problem.

    I.e., what about those elements of traditional worship with which we might not take umbrage, but are nonetheless not able to be defended explicitly from Scripture? What about the singing of hymns? Choirs? Instruments? Genevan robes? In what key should the Psalms be sung? Carpet? Pews? Folding chairs? Wood? Etc., etc. Oh, these are just on the periphery of worship? Not all of them are? Who says?

    It also seems to me that it won’t do to suggest that the RPW is a Reformed monolith, a universal—and binding—doctrine.

    The 2nd Helvetic, chap. 27 states: “If different rites are found in churches, no one should think for this reason the churches disagree. . . . For the churches have always used their liberty in such rites, as being things indifferent.” See also chapter 24’s approval of the festivals of Christmas, Easter, etc., as a matter of “Christian liberty.”

    The Belgic Confession, art. 32, warns, even as it puts forth a RPW, us to “reject all human inventions, and all laws, which man would introduce into the worship of God, thereby to bind and compel the conscience in any manner whatever.” When it comes to defining essential elements of worship, pull the trigger very slowly, in other words.

    The Scottish Confession, chap. 20, argues that it is not possible that “one order in ceremonies can be appointed for all ages, times, and places: for as ceremonies (such as men have devised) are but temporal, so may and ought they to be changed.”

  12. >we respond to God’s Word with God’s Word.

    Not necessarily so, Scott. We often respond to God’s Word with prayer -prayer that God will conform us to its precepts. And if we’re Christians, we offer up these prayers in the NAME of Jesus Christ. If we just stick to the Psalms we can’t do this.

    >We gained hymns about the time we began to lose our confession

    Untrue. We “gained” hymns when the earliest [Jewish] believers chanted their prayers to Yeshua. (For centuries, they had chanted the Psalms; there’s no New Testament evidence that chanting of prayers ceased. [Check out an Orthodox Jewish service today].) A chanted prayer -e.g., “O come, O Come, Emmanuel”- is a hymn. It’s that simple.

  13. John,

    In Reformed liturgy, the psalms/song of response is a sung prayer. There are only really two elements in Reformed worship: Word and prayer. The word is preached or read or administered sacramentally.

    I’m familiar with synagogic practice. The evidence of the early, 2nd century, post-canonical church is that they responded to God’s Word with his word and without instruments. Even where the evidence for non-canonical hymnody exists there were no instruments.

    We are restricted to the canonical Word today because we are not canonical actors. We’re cessasationists. The saving work of God for this epoch is done. The saving Word of God has come. The next canonical epoch will open when Christ returns. Until then we live in the in-between time.

  14. Scott-

    >There are only really two elements in Reformed worship: Word and prayer.

    OK. This leads me to believe that in RP worship, prayers are offered up which are not themselves part of the Word. (Biblically informed, certainly,but not verbatim quotations of Scripture.) My point is that if such prayers are chanted -which is how the early Jewish Christians prayed- they are hymns.

  15. John,

    You’re assuming, without warrant, that God’s people are entitled, in stated worship services to speak to God and to praise him any way they want. The term for that is “will worship.”

    If you say “Well our response must be conditioned by the Word” then I reply, “why shouldn’t it be the Word?” After all, God gave us a song book and a text. Why do we need more than the text of Scripture? Is there something we just have to say to God that he has not already said to us? On what grounds do you impose on the congregation words to be spoken to God that he has not already given us?”

  16. Scott-
    >God gave us a song book and a text.

    Not really. A song book contains songs (obviously). A song consists of a)words and b)music. If b) is absent, it’s a book of poems. If God had given us “songs” as such, He would have supplied the tunes also.

    >You’re assuming, without warrant, that God’s people are entitled, in stated worship services to speak to God and to praise him any way they want.

    Not at all. They are obligated to speak to Him in reverence, humility, contrition, adoration, etc.
    But we’re getting away from the main point. You ask “Is there something we just have to say to God that he has not already said to us?” Yes -this is part of petitionary prayer, isn’t it? Which is something we’re commanded to do.
    Scott, I really need to press the point: Do you believe that all prayers offered up in a worship service must be verbatim quotes of Scripture? (It looks like an awful lot hinges on this.)

  17. John,

    You’re conflating two offices, the special and the general. The believer holds the general office. He is not ordained to special office. Thus, he does not lead in worship. He is not called to exposit the Word. The congregation holds the general office. The congregation is called to reply to God’s Word with God’s Word.

  18. Scott, I agree. (I was unfamiliar with the terminology, but I have no problem with what you’re saying.) But again: whether you believe that prayers should be offered up by an individual believer, or the congregation, or the minister -do those prayers need to be verbatim quotes of Scripture? That’s the issue which I’m trying to bring to your attention.

  19. John,

    We may be talking past one another. In Reformed worship, as originally envisioned, there is virtually no “individual” action by any laity. The only individual who speaks, as such, in a service is the minister whose office it is to read God’s Word, preach God’s Word, and to lead the congregation in worship.

    The only “prayers” offered up by laity in a Reformed worship service would be the Lord’s Prayer and sung prayers from the canonical Word of God.

    That word may be chanted or sung. It may be set to a variety of tunes but it must be God’s Word. No consistory/session has a right to require of a congregation to sing/pray to God anything that is not Gods Word.

    I don’t know what you mean by “verbatim.”

    As far as I know the apostolic church used the LXX or other Greek renderings of the Hebrew Scriptures so we have that example and 1 Cor 14 authorizes translation of God’s Word. We have more less faithful translations. Obviously we want to confess/sing/pray God’s Word using a faithful translation.

  20. OK, I’m beginning to get the picture. (I’ve worshiped in many Presbyterian churches, but none which apply the RP as strictly as what you’ve indicated.) So: the minister doesn’t offer up his own devised prayers?
    If all prayers are taken from the Psalms, then none are offered up in the name of Jesus Christ. In view of the New Testament emphasis on that name (e.g., Matt. 1:21, Acts 3:16, Acts 4:12) don’t you think there’s a problem here?

    • John,

      Yes, it’s true that very few Reformed/Presbyterian congregations follow the RPW any longer. It’s been forgotten. That’s why I wrote, Recovering the Reformed Confession. There’s an entire chapter on this problem therein.

      Yes, the minister may pray extemporaneously. It’s part of his office to lead worship and to preach (which may well be extemporaneous). In the 16th century most of the prayers were read but not always. It was a matter of freedom. The answer goes back to the distinction between the general office of believer and the special office of the minister.

      Who said anything about all the prayers being from the psalms?

      Read the chapter in RRC for more. I discuss this at some length.

  21. Zrim-

    Here’s something for you -and RP folks in general- to mull over.
    Let’s say that there are two unbelievers. One is an “artsy” type who loves classical music, ceremony and ritual. The other is a highly intellectual, left-brained type with a consuming thirst for all kinds of knowledge.
    The first would be “attracted to” a High Anglican service -even though he wouldn’t believe that crossing oneself is anything other than superstition, or that the Eucharist has any objective significance (since he doesn’t believe that Jesus is the “Lamb of God” who really offered Himself “as a propitiation for the sins of the whole world”). The second would be “attracted to” an RP-oriented worship service, with a lengthy and scholarly exposition of a Biblical text. Not that he would believe its content -but it would satisfy his desire to know what the adherents of a major world religion (Christianity) believe.
    The first person would have an aesthetically rewarding experience, the second an intellectually rewarding one. I don’t see that the one person would be closer to being a Christian than the other.

    • The first person would have an aesthetically rewarding experience, the second an intellectually rewarding one. I don’t see that the one person would be closer to being a Christian than the other.

      John,

      It’s not a question of “who’s closer to being a Christian.” The question is what is closer to true worship (second commandment). This seems to be our fundamental divide: you’re still presuming something quite anthropocentric and working it out from there. I’m asking, along with what I think the best of the Reformed tradition asks, something more theocentric: what does God demand? And I suppose contrariwise, what does he forbid?

      FWIW, I also wonder if, to add insult to anthropomorphic injury, you’re working with some pretty two-dimensional stereotypes of human beings (artsy/intellectual). Human beings are complicated creatures, not easily boiled down to such categories. It seems to me that this is natural to those who have more anthropocentric assumptions, where the results are homogeneous churches. But the more theocentric assumptions might reveal a very diverse congregation, one where the members have all sorts of tastes an styles but who gather under a more narrow definition of true worship.

  22. Scott-

    OK, thanks for clarifying. Now we’re on the same wave length.

    >Yes, the minister may pray extemporaneously.
    >Who said anything about all the prayers being from the psalms?

    And my contention is that in apostolic worship -which developed out of Hebrew worship, where prayers were chanted- the person leading the worship would chant his prayers. (There’s no New Testament indication that the practice ceased.)
    What is a chanted prayer? A hymn. (As you might recall, my example was “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, which is sung by most churches during Advent.)
    So: why are hymns forbidden in worship?

  23. John,

    I don’t think we’re quite on the same wave-length. See RRC. I think I’ve answered this question before. See the replies above.

    best

  24. Scott-

    Much writing has been done on both sides of the Exclusive Psalmody issue. I don’t happen to own “Recovering the Reformed Confession”; if I did, I’d be happy to read the chapter you referred to. But in any case, it looks like our particular exchange has boiled down to a simple question: A chanted prayer is a hymn, isn’t it?

  25. Zrim-

    >It’s not a question of “who’s closer to being a Christian.” The question is what is closer to true worship (second commandment). This seems to be our fundamental divide: you’re still presuming something quite anthropocentric and working it out from there.

    I see your point. My purpose in creating that scenario was not to “work out” an understanding of how worship should be done. It was to call into question an apparent RP assumption: that the natural man, as such, is more attracted to aesthetic expressions than to verbal propositional assertions. While my categories doubtless included an element of stereotyping, I’d still respond: “it all depends on which particular natural man.”

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